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STeppes 















^\^n 




P resell ted to the 

UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO 
LIBRARY 

by the 

ONTARIO LEGISLATIVE 
LIBRARY 



1980 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2008 with funding from 

IVIicrosoft Corporation 



http://www.archive.org/details/bluesteppesadvenOOsheluoft 



THE BLUE STEPPES 



7 0^:^ 1 1^_ 

THE BLUE STEPPES 

ADVENTURES AMONG RUSSIANS 



BY 

GERARD SHELLEY 



7 9 5 i 




A SUNDIAL EDITION 

LONDON 

JOHN HAMILTON 

PUBLISHERS 



D)< 
Sb3 



PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN 



PREFACE 

IN WRITING THESE PAGES, I have 
endeavoured to throw a light on those dark 
forces which were so long fermenting in Russia 
and produced the most staggering of upheavals. 
Bolshevism is not the product of air or angels. 
It was of long growth in the soil of Russia and 
was showing its features in the lives of the intelli- 
gentsia long before it acquired political power. 
So I refrain from giving soulless lists of statistics, 
undertakings, railways, tables of imports and ex- 
ports and the rest of the material scaffolding. 
It is not the house, not the style of its decorations, 
nor the dresses of its people, but their actual lives, 
thoughts, outlook and reactions which are really 
instructive and decisive. For it is by these forces 
alone that heaven or hell is made, society is run 
or ruined and the unembodied theories of doctri- 
naires are put to the acid test. Governments and 
theoreticians may come and go, but the people 
go on for ever. And it is because Russians are 
such confirmed lovers of theory that their actual 
lives are so interesting. For the rest, I will quote 
Merejkovsky's words to Western Europe : 

" We resemble you as the left hand resembles 
the right ; the right hand does not lie parallel 
with the left, it is necessary to turn it round. 

7 



The Blue Steppes 

What you have, we also have, but in the reverse 
order ; we are your underside. Your genius is of 
the definite, ours of the infinite. You know how 
to check yourselves in time, to find a way round 
walls, or to return ; we rush onward and break 
our heads. It is difficult to hold us back. We 
do not go, we run ; we do not run, we fly ; we 
do not fly, we fall. You love the middle ; we, 
the extremities. You are sober ; we, drunken. 
You, reasonable ; we, lawless. You guard and 
keep your souls, we always seek to lose ours. You 
are in the last limit of your freedom ; we, in 
the depth of our bondage, have almost never 
ceased to be rebellious, secret, anarchic. Not in 
reason and sense, in which we often reach complete 
negation — nihilism — but in our occult will, we are 
mystics." 

Following are my experiences. 



CONTENTS 



PREFACE 



CHAPTER 

I. IN THE TRAIN 



II. A FAMILY OF NOBLES 

III. A FAMILY OF NOBLES {cOfltinued) 

IV. THE END OF A FAMILY OF NOBLES 
V. THE ERA OF RASPUTIN 

VI. DAYS AND NIGHTS WITH RASPUTIN 

VII. THE HOUSE IN THE HORSEGUARDs' ALLEY 

VIII. THE HOUSE IN THE HORSEGUARDs' ALLEY {continued') 

IX. THE HOUSE IN THE HORSEGUARDs' ALLEY {continued) 

X. THE HOUSE IN THE HORSEGUARDs' ALLEY {continued) 

XI. A GARDEN OF EDEN .... 

XII. THE HOMES OF THE MIGHTY (pETROGRAD) 

XIII. THE HOMES OF THE MIGHTY (mOSCOw) 



XIV. A MIXED HOUSE 



XV. A BAG OF DIAMONDS 



XVI. OUT OF THE JAWS OF HELL 



PACE 

7 
II 



. 29 
. 42 

• 54 
. (^(> 
. 81 
. 98 

• "5 

• 133 
146 

. 166 

. 184 

. 198 

230 

• 249 
262 

9 



THE "BLUE STEPPES 

Chapter I 

IN THE TRAIN 

PEOPLE WHO CAME from Russia would 
never cease talking about the mysterious 
beauty of the country they had left. Not 
all the splendour of the haunts of fashion in 
Western Europe could still their longing for the 
land that lay, deserted and snow-bound, so far 
away. They brought with them their Baccha- 
nalian zest in enjoyment, their caviare and their 
regrets, and Western Europe offered them its 
choicest pleasures for their ringing roubles. But 
their thoughts were ever turning to the blue 
steppes, the kingdoms of flatness and poverty, 
moujhiks and vodka, grand dukes and anarchists. 
They were enchanted by the blue steppes. 
" Space ! " they would exclaim, flinging their 
arms wide apart. " Here in Western Europe 
everything is so narrow, so conventional. One is 
afraid to be free." 

I felt at the time that there must be a great 
idea behind such yearnings and such affection 

II 



The Blue Steppes 

for unbounded freedom of conduct. I caught 
the Russian fever. I wanted to go to Russia. In 
19 1 3, when the chance came, I set out with all 
the curiosity and courage of Eve approaching un- 
daunted the fruity tree. I thought I might enjoy 
the broad, spacious and unfettered sense of living 
which my young Russian friends raved about during 
their voluntary exile in conventional Europe. 

Knowing but a few words of Russian at that 
time, I had found my journey from Warsaw to 
Koursk a long and tedious imprisonment in a 
slow, musty-smelling train, from the windows of 
which I could see nothing but dreary plains and 
miserable hovels. The little grey, lopsided huts of 
the villages with their haunting look of ugly 
squat spiders, joyless and as hopeless as blind, 
tattered beggars by the wayside, failed to com- 
pensate me for my ignorance of the language, 
in which my fellow passengers were pouring out 
endless cascades of hissing, gurgling, colliding 
sounds. Only when the golden domes of Kiev 
loomed into view, sparkling and flashing in the 
brilliant sunshine against the deep blue sky, did I 
feel a sense of relief from the growing burden of 
monotonous misery. The long grey pall that 
covered the plains of Russia burst at last into a 
gorgeous pattern of gold, blue, white, red and 
silver. As the train passed over the broad, spark- 
ling Dnieper, I heard the bells of the monastery 
churches scattering their deep-toned notes on the 
quivering, warm air. There were lots of little 
boats on the river with staggering men dressed in 
12 



/// the Train 

blue and pink tunics playing harmonicas and 
singing in harmony. The phantom pallor of nude 
bodies splashed the distant green banks. A few 
minutes later the vast plain laid out its dreary pall 
again. 

Kiev brought me relief in more than one sense. 
Just as I had decided to expect no break in the 
view until the train reached Kharkov, and was 
preparing to take a nap, a young man staggered 
along the corridor, bumping against the walls 
with two cumbersome cloakbags. His puckered 
brows and flustered look suggested all the annoy- 
ance he must have felt in passing from wagon to 
wagon, with an occasional lurch from the jolting 
train to batter his shins and a sudden heave to 
assist him in prodding the encumbering humanity 
in the corridor with his two gigantic bags. The 
train was crowded. The ceaseless rookery of prat- 
tling tongues, all wagging as fast as they could 
and running all the gamut of human tones, would 
have convinced even the solitary horse that tossed 
its head and dashed snorting away over the plain 
at the sight of the train, that it was loaded with a 
strange tribe of animals. Silent and forsaken 
among them, I felt as though I would have 
changed places with the horse. 

" If there is nothing out of the ordinary in all 
this," I thought, " nothing but the common 
everyday chatter, then I think it's a miscarriage 
of Providence for people to have to knock one 
another's ears about and rend the atmosphere 
with these terrific sounds. What a waste of time 

13 



The Blue Steppes 

and energy ! Surely the people that treat one 
another with such emotion must be nervous wrecks 
at forty." 

Perhaps this thought was due to my despondent 
mood. I had been trying to spell out the letters 
of the terrible declaration over the door : 

" VoSPRESHTCHAYETSIA KURIT." 

I had looked them both up in my pocket dic- 
tionary. In plain English it meant *' smoking 
forbidden." But I fancied the words were merely 
put up for poetic adornment, for everyone about 
me was smoking like unweened devils. The 
greasy floor was littered with burnt matches and 
the little charred corpses of the paper holders 
peculiar to Russian cigarettes. I could plainly 
see that most things in Russia ended in smoke, 
prohibitions included. Perhaps all the terrific 
chatter pouring out from scores of energetic jaws 
had just as much significance as the shoals of 
littered fag-ends on the floor and had its origin in 
the same spiritual necessity. 

I wondered all the more because my Russian 
friends in exile had assured me that the Russian 
had more " soul " than other mortals and far 
more *' feeling " than I considered sensible. It 
had always been instilled into me that uncon- 
trolled feeling was a bit of a nuisance in the 
conduct of life, but my friends had always referred 
to it as their greatest possession and delight. Yet 
I knew sufficient of Russian life to realize that it 
14 



/;/ the Train 

could also boast of its unfeeling governors and 
generals, its hardened police agents, its ruthless 
Bazarovs among the socialist intelligentsia, and 
its merciless rebels among the peasants. Were all 
these just the counterpart of the cult of unbounded 
feeling, the unavoidable outcome of spiritual 
anarchy, the cruel, monstrous balance necessary to 
preserve the equilibrium of society ? 

I thought of all this as I listened to the tones 
and watched the manners of my fellow passengers. 
There was nothing else for me to do. I had no 
book to read save my pocket dictionary, my bag 
of books having disappeared in Warsaw owing to 
the mistake of a Frenchwoman, who had taken it 
away and finally left it in the care of the station- 
master. It had to remain there till I got to my 
destination. 

On the seat opposite sat a queer-looking middle- 
aged man with a woman I took to be his wife 
and a boy in uniform, who was evidently their 
son. From the constant supplications addressed 
to him by his mother, I gathered that his name was 
Serge. 

*' Seriojha ! Seriojha 1 " she stormed, whined, 
raved, threatened, wailed, implored, besought and 
cajoled in succession. I couldn't make out what 
it was all about, but it was an amusing revelation 
to me of the way in which domestic affairs were 
conducted in the ranks of the intelligentsia. In 
the space of ten minutes, Seriojha had pouted, 
snarled, distorted his features with all sorts of 
horrid expressions, disgorged a torrent of heated, 

15 



The Blue Steppes 

crashing language, spat on the floor, and as far 
as I could make out, sent all the gods that be to 
Jericho. Father and mother alternated their Olympic 
thunders with abject supplication. 

I can still see in my mind's eye their heaving 
bosoms, tortured faces and trembling outstretched 
hands, while in my ears rings the sound of their 
torn, tear-laden voices. 

" Rahdi Boga ! Rahdi Boga ! " they kept 
repeating. 

I looked in my pocket dictionary and saw that 
it meant " for God's sake ". 

To every "Rahdi Boga", Seriojha returned a 
terrible sound, half a hiss and half the struggling 
curse of a man who is being strangled : 

" Kkkchchorrtoo ! " 

I looked it up in my pocket dictionary and saw 
that it meant " to the devil ! " 

*' Sweet child ! " I thought, watching the 
Mephistophelian furrows into which his face was 
contorted. Satanic violence seemed to fill the 
atmosphere. Sulphuric spirits seemed to ride the 
welkin. 

At last the raging storm of emotions, hot, 
electric and torturing, dropped with a sudden 
death as though its valkyrian fury had spent itself 
in over-violence. 

*' Tookh 1 " said the man, casting the word 
out as though it had been a poison in his mouth 
and waving his hand sharply downwards as a sign 
of despair, resignation and contempt. " Naplevat 1 
Naplevat ! " 
i6 



In the Train 

He staggered out into the corridor, mopping 
his brow and drawing a deep breath of pure, 
fresh air. 

" Naplevat ! " he kept muttering and waving his 
hand downwards as at something hideous, vile and 
contemptible. 

I looked in my pocket dictionary and saw that 
the words meant " to spit on a thing ". 

Meanwhile tears began to flow copiously from 
the eyes of Seriojha's mother and her sobs gripped 
even my phlegmatic bowels. I wondered what 
heinous deed or intention of the boy it was that 
could call forth such a terrific whirlwind of futility, 
such a volcanic rending of the atmosphere and 
one another's nerves. I looked at Seriojha and 
saw that the furrowing fury had left his handsome 
features. A gentle look came into his eyes. He 
suddenly seized his mother in his arms and hugged 
and kissed her passionately. 

" Prosti, mamochka ! Prosti ! " he kept repeat- 
ing, his voice quivering with the tears of repentance 
and humility. 

I looked in my pocket dictionary and saw that 
the words meant : " Forgive, little mother, for- 
give ! 

Then Seriojha's father, having recovered from 
his muttcrings of " naplevat ", looked through the 
door and hurried in to share the kisses and embraces 
of forgiveness. 

Seriojha stretched himself out on the seat vacated 

by his parents and allowed himself to be covered 

with a rug. A downy pillow was placed under 

B 17 



The Blue Steppes 

his head and his mother's kisses and murmurs fell 
upon him in showers. 

" Slava Bogoo ! " his fadicr kept repeating with 
great feeling, a look of relief and satisfaction 
beaming over his sallow, shapeless features. 

I looked in my pocket dictionary and found that 
it meant " Glory to God ! " 

So the object of all the terrific tornado of emo- 
tions was to induce the boy to take a nap. Never 
before had I seen so much violence of feeling 
stirred up for so trifling a matter. Through it 
all I descried the dark, grim tyrant of anarchy, 
whipping up and torturing his unhappy victims 
with all their merciless egotism and futile lack of 
vision and control. 

I should not have mentioned this incident if 
my ensuing experiences of Russian life had not 
taught me that the very same elements of attitude 
and feeling lay at the bottom of similar incidents 
which made up all the gruesome, overcharged, 
terrific picture of the every day life of the Russian 
intelligentsia. 

The only bright spot in it was the reconciliation 
and outpouring of affection. But even that, I 
was soon to discover, was just an interlude until 
the demons of anarchy rent the atmosphere again. 
And seventy times seven were the forgivings and 
embracings and the same number of times the red 
furies raged. . . . 

There could be only one form of government 
for people of such a temperament. To live by 
mood alone is to own a pitiless master. 
i8 



In the Train 

Hearing sounds of alarni furtlicr along the 
corridor, I went out to discover what was afoot. 
High words were pouring out of a coupe, before 
which a group of onlookers stood laughing and 
enjoying the scene. One little fat man among 
them amused me immensely. He wore a short 
green coat with brass buttons and a white peaked 
naval cap. When he took it off to scratch his 
head after a paroxysm of mirth, he disclosed a 
billowy pate flecked with the pepper and salt of 
closely cropped hair. At every fresh outburst of 
clamour or some sally of wit or invective, unintel- 
ligible to me, he would give his thick stumpy 
thigh a sounding slap and crumple with emotion, 
exclaiming *' Chcli . . . orrt ! " which I had just 
taken to mean " The Deuce ! " 

I thought perhaps a band of actors were pro- 
viding the passengers with gratuitous entertain- 
ment, although it sounded very much like an 
imminent general smash-up. I ventured to draw 
a little nearer, when suddenly there was the sound 
of breaking glass, followed by a score of high- 
pitched, excited voices all shrieking at once. The 
funny litde man slapped his thigh with a force 
that seemed to indicate final and consummate 
satisfaction, rapped out " Chch . . . orrt " with 
all the emphasis of a Billingsgate porter, and 
staggered along the corridor like a man half-seas 
over. 

I turned to get out of his way and collided 
with the young man I had previously seen pass 
down the corridor with his load of bags. I 

19 



The Blue Steppes 

hastily apologized for my clumsiness. In a flash 
he had guessed that I was a foreigner. There 
was a look of haughty contempt on his clear-cut 
features. He soon enlightened me, however, that 
his dissatisfaction referred to other specimens of 
humanity than myself. He turned out to be a 
young German who was returning to his post in 
a bank at Kharkov. But he had no need to tell me 
his nationality, for he no sooner took off his hat 
than he revealed it at once. His hair was cropped 
to resemble the bristles of a hedgehog and I 
realized in a flash that I had found someone to 
talk to, even though the language was German. 

He was equally glad to find a listener, to whom 
he could pour out some of the haughty, critical 
feelings which were surging through his breast. 

Finding that he had been unable to secure a 
seat, I invited him to take a rest on mine in the 
stuffy coupe, where Seriojha lay endeavouring to 
sleep under the ceaseless murmurs of his meddling 
mother and father. 

The cold, superior mask of contempt had settled 
on Herr Wegall's features, as he confided to me 
that he considered the Russian people had no 
honesty or honour. 

" You'll find out for yourself pretty quick," 
he said. "Word of honour means nothing what- 
ever in Russian and no one ever takes it seriously. 
In Russia, if one wishes to take an oath of honour 
that is valid, one must give the German word 
' Ehrenwort '. Duty, order, virtue, logic — every- 
thing dissolves in Russia." 
20 



In the Train 

" Then how docs this vast country keep 
together ? " I asked. 

** The bulk will always be there and always 
hold together in some form," he replied. " But 
what order and greatness there is, relies on the 
German element. They are the salt of Russia. 
There are two millions of them altogether and 
they supply most of the governors and generals, 
directors and organizers. Take away the Germans 
and the Empire will collapse like a castle of 
cards." 

The Teutonic tone of authority rang in his 
voice. I could see that he was fully convinced of 
the truth of all he had said and was supremely 
conscious of his part as a minor Kulturtrager in 
the marches of Barbary. When I asked him 
whether there was any chance of the British 
taking their share in the task, he made a wry 
mouth and raised his brows satirically. From 
his pocket he drew out a small edition of Scho- 
penhauer's works, and hastily turning over the 
pages with his long, thin fingers explained that 
he would quote that great philosopher's opinion 
of the value of British education. In a highly 
contemptuous voice, an indulgent smile of pity 
and derision hovering over his face, he read out a 
long tirade against the Anglican clergy and the 
stifling part they played in the education of 
Englishmen. 

I listened patiently and then informed him that 
I had never passed through the hands of Anglican 
clergymen. 

21 



The Blue Steppes 

" That is interesting ! " he replied, brightening 
up and seeming to imply that I had had a lucky 
escape. *' Then that is why you speak German ? " 

" I have; lived 'abroad from a very tender age," 
I assured him. 

He asked me where I was going to and what 
had brought me to Russia. 

" I have come to see the sights," I replied. 
'' I have heard that Russia is like no other country 
on the face of the earth. Mysticism ..." 

He interrupted me with a very Teutonic 
" phut ! " His pouchy lips curled up into an 
acanthus of contempt and sceptic derision. 

" You'll find a lot of that," he said. " It's 
another name for chaos and lack of reason. Keine 
Methode [he said these words with a delicious 
drawl on the o\ and dirt and stinks are as incense 
to their god." 

'' Maybe they have no method," I replied, 
remembering that he and his compatriots reserved 
to themselves the honour of conferring it on the 
poor Russians. " Aber die Seele I " 

I lingered on the last word with as sentimental 
an intonation as I could invent for the gratification 
of this child of Goethe. 

" Soul ! " he exclaimed. 

I thought, however, that the subject could not 
be dismissed in such a characteristically Teutonic 
manner, and registered a vow that I would give it 
all my attention when I came into contact with 
Russians through the medium of their own 
language. And later events proved that I was right, 

22 



I?i the Train 

for there is nothing in the world so surprisingly 
different as a Russian who makes himself known 
to you through the polite medium of French or 
English and the same man revealing himself in 
his native language. It is like a specious demi- 
mondaine who slips back into her native element 
when the eyes of the world are withdrawn 
from her. 

When I mentioned to my companion that I 
was going to stay with Count TorlofF, his eyes 
assumed a look of intense interest. Of course, 
he knew all about the Count. He was the fore- 
most man in the Government of Kharkov and 
owned thousands of acres in the neighbouring 
Government of Koursk. Yes, I was certainly in 
luck's way, he assured me. He wished that he, 
too, might have the chance of spending a delightful 
time with the richest and most distinguished 
people in the province instead of going back to 
his stool in a provincial bank. But he did not 
appear to have found life altogether dull ; at 
least, he had found time to hear all about the life 
of those whose lot he envied. He began at once 
to describe to me the private life of the Governor 
of Kharkov and his wife, of the Marshal of the 
Nobility, the Commander of the Garrison, the 
Chief of the Police and all the outstanding persons 
in authority. 

They were strange, hair-raising tales, which I 
thought I had read somewhere on a sultry summer 
afternoon. As I listened to his eloquent descrip- 
tions — he was evidently glad to prepare me for 

2'* 



The Blue Steppes 

any disillusionment regarding my preconceived 
views of Russia — I heard the laughter of women, 
the shouts of men, the clink of champagne glasses, 
the cries of alternative adoration and execration, the 
clash of swords, the cracking of horse-whips, 
the passionate voices of singing gypsies and over 
all, like a distant, plaintive echo, the cries of 
protest of ill-used men and women, the stifled 
wail of execrating lips and the sharp, sudden crack 
of rifles. . . . 

I listened enchanted to all that my haughty 
German companion poured with malicious savour 
into my ears. How much of it was true, I hardly 
dared surmise, for I was more than ever anxious 
to start on my career of personal acquaintance 
with the strange, inimitable people whose doings 
gave so much variety to this monotonous affair 
called life. Stronger than ever was my resolution 
to learn the language and to make myself inde- 
pendent of interpreters and the treacherous ser- 
vice of a polite European language. I had been 
warned that the Russian nobles used French as a 
veneer with which to cover their native Tartardom. 
Having spoken French, German and Italian from 
a tender age, I felt sure I would have no difficulty 
in acquiring Russian. And experience was to 
teach me that the foreigner who investigates the 
strange ways of Russia, under whatever system of 
government, without a thorough knowledge of 
the language is like a fool in Petticoat Lane or 
an ass at the animals' concert. But once the 
language is mastered a world of terrible possi- 
24 



/// the Train 

bilities opens out before one. The limitations, 
the helplessness, the preconceived notions, fall 
away like the curtains of a hidden scene, and 
before one's bewildered eyes appears a rich reality, 
dark, fearsome and terrible in its crude, nause- 
ating darkness, its fierce, blinding light and shame- 
less barbarism, its shuddersome black shadows of 
grim violence and death, together with the glowing 
colours of pity and heroism, its fragrant blossoms 
of tenderness, love and endurance. 

There was an interruption when the train stopped 
at a small station, and a terrific altercation began 
afresh in the Seriojha family. Not wishing to 
witness another scene, I clambered down on to the 
sandy platform. 

Barefoot peasant girls, dressed in red and pink print 
frocks, with coloured kerchiefs tied over their 
heads, ofi^ered wild strawberries and eggs for sale. 
Old women held up little earthenware pans of 
pickled herring, sausages, and pickled gherkins and 
mushrooms. 

My German companion bought some of the 
herrings and pickled stuff. Back in the train he 
insisted on my tasting the mushrooms. They 
were of the bolus kind, very thick and pulpy. 
I had already tasted something similar in a 
Russian restaurant in Vienna. I mentioned the fact 
to him. 

" Quite likely," he replied. *' There is quite a 
business in the Koursk Government pickling and 
exporting gherkins and mushrooms. These grow 
abundantly in the forests. The peasants gather 

25 



The Blue Steppes 

them in the early morning and sell them to the 
landowners, who boil and salt them, put them 
into bottles and send them abroad. The Emperor 
of Austria (Franz Joseph) is particularly fond of 
them. You always see them on Russian tables as 
hors d^oeuvres. There's a funny old woman in 
the neighbourhood of Count TorlofF, where you 
are going to stay. She makes a good income out 
of the mushrooms, though most of her trade is 
done with Petersburg and Moscow. No doubt 
you'll be taken to see her. She banks with my 
firm and has the reputation of being the meanest 
old woman in existence. She haggles with the 
peasants over the price of the mushrooms, and 
periodically lays all her servants under arrest on 
the charge of pilfering in the pantry. And 
poor devils, I shouldn't be surprised if they did. 
She herself weighs out their daily portion of 
black bread and, sprinkling it with a pinch of 
salt symbolical of traditional hospitality, quotes 
the Lord's Prayer to them with stern exhortations 
to be truly thankful. If an ounce is missing she 
has the servants locked up by the local guard and 
undertakes a systematic search of their boxes and 
belongings, and whatever money she discovers she 
confiscates. She declares it must have been come 
by illicitly, as she herself disposes of her servants' 
wages, investing one-third in our bank on their 
behalf and receiving the interest for herself as 
payment for her services to illiterate persons ; 
one-third she lays out on clothes, buying the 
material and having it made up by her own maid 
26 



I?i the Train 

Into liveries on which she traces her coat of arms 
and sews on brass buttons with her crest. From 
the remaining third she deducts a sum to pay the 
maid for making the material up and to cover 
the cost of the buttons. The remainder is kept 
by her in reserve to pay for fines which she 
inflicts on them for all sorts of trespasses. She 
has a list of them, as weird as any brain could 
invent, hanging up in their rooms and quarters. 
She fines a servant ten copecks for failing to 
answer her handbell at once, which often happens, 
since she delights in sending the domestics to 
all the quarters of the globe on all sorts of wild goose 
errands. When the sum is exhausted she draws 
on that deposited at the bank. She rules them 
all with a rod of iron and swears at them like a 
trooper. They tremble and adore her. She has 
a grey moustache and two yellow teeth that dance 
perpetually up and down on her thick, protruding 
lower lip. She is devoted to a tall, massive ex- 
Guardsman of the Preobrajhensky Regiment. He 
is six-foot-five in height and as broad as a giant. 
Nikanor is his name, and whenever she gets into 
a temper, which happens about ten times a day, 
the house, the yard and the woods around echo 
her bellowing voice calling out ' Nikanor ! Nika- 
nor ! . . .' And when he doesn't appear on 
the spot as quick as a jack-in-the-box, the air is 
rent by a terrible hiss : ' Sookin sin ! Sookin 
sin ! ' (son of a dog !). When at last he turns up, 
perspiring with haste and anxiety and mopping 
his brow with the great red handkerchief bearing 

27 



The Blue Steppes 

his mistress's coat of arms in gold thread, he sinks 
down on his knees as she shrieks out curse and 
villainy upon him and cudgels him soundly with 
her knotty stick. The great fair, pale-eyed giant 
bleats for mercy : ' Forgiveness, Your Splendour ! ' 
and beats his head on the ground before her feet. 
Then at the end of the storm he humbly kisses her 
finger-tips." 



28 



Chapter II 

A FAMILY OF NOBLES 

I 

WHEN I ALIGHTED from the train that 
had brought me from Kharkov, I found 
myself in the midst of a roaring crowd of 
sheepskin-coated moujhiks. The rank smell of 
their top-boots and rough clothing mingled with 
the fragrance of the vast fields of standing oats 
on one side of the rails and with the warm odour 
of the immense forest of pine-trees that stopped 
short, like an enormous towering wave, at the very- 
edge of the narrow line. 

I was at last on the soil of the Russian country, 
far away from towns and " culture ". The puffing, 
wood-fed train rumbled away through the endless 
stretch of golden corn, tossing its white mane of 
smoke against the lark-loud, quivering blue sky, 
and drawing out from its fiery bowels a long, 
heart-moving, mournful sigh that rolled with hollow 
echoes through the deep, slumbering forest. What 
vastness ! The breeze swept across the boundless 
steppe, hot with the odours of its long journey 
and the ardours of the sun. No hedges, ditches, 
or fences as in the country at home, no rows of 

29 



The Blue Steppes 

stately elms or oaks to mark the boundaries. 
Here, everything was too vast, too far-flung for 
such adornment. Where trees grew, they grew 
in forests, boundless as the fields they bordered. 
No houses were in sight beyond the low buildings 
of the station, though at one far end of the horizon 
a long ribbon of smoke trailed slowly across the 
sky, as from an unseen liner on the boundless 
ocean. A factory, no doubt. 

All around me swarmed moujhiks, shouting 
their greetings to one another and seating them- 
selves on their snorting horses. They lashed them 
mercilessly, and, clattering over the cobbled yard, 
dashed off on to the soft, stoneless, sandy track. 
A bearded, long-haired priest, in a violet cassock 
with a large gold cross on his breast, entered a 
brtchka^ crossing himself piously as he drove off. 

Standing alone on the deserted platform, I 
waited for a messenger from my friends to come 
for me. I looked round the yard, but could find 
no one. A brightly polished carriage of superior 
aspect stood there, deserted. A young man, dressed 
in conventional town attire, came up to me, intro- 
ducing himself in English as Vassili Bodkin, of a 
neighbouring estate. He was, I discovered later, 
the son of the Tsar's physician. Offering me 
very kindly his help, he went into the little vodka- 
cabin at the back of the station and rounded up 
Simon, the coachman, and Emilian, the man- 
servant, who had been sent by Count Torloff to 
meet me. They were dressed in white liveries 
with crested brass buttons. 
30 



A Family of Nobles 

Neither had ever seen an Englishman before, 
so they both opened wide their hirge, glassy eyes, 
shaking their heads and muttering something I 
could not understand. I asked M. Bodkin what 
they were saying. " They want to know whether 
you belong to a Turkish tribe and how many 
wives you have brought with you," he replied. 
*' The peasants here are still under the impres- 
sions produced by the wars of Catherine the 
Great against the Turks. The peasant mind moves 
at the pace of centuries." 

Hearing us talk English, the two men again 
shook their heads and made some mournful remark. 

*' They say Russian is the best language," 
M. Bodkin explained, " because it is understand- 
able. Not like your bird's language no Orthodox 
soul can understand." 

Thanking my rescuer for his kindness, I bade 
him au revoir and drove off in the carriage. For 
miles we glided over the sandy track, the horses' 
hoofs padding softly and sending showers of fine 
sand into our faces. Our way led through fields 
of fragrant corn, miles of beet, through shady, 
silent forests where the horses stopped to drink 
from a sedgy brook, then once more through 
hot, sunlit fields and across swampy heathland 
where flocks of geese splashed the green with 
white, where droves of wild horses galloped across 
the horizon with mad delight ; past a band of 
red-skirted, kerchiefed peasant women, carrying 
glinting scythes across their shoulders and singing a 
high, wailing folk-song ; across a river-ford, where 

31 



The Blue Steppes 

men and women bathed together in Eden inno- 
cence, until at last we entered a long row of white 
daub izbas, with gaily painted lattices, gathered 
all the dogs and urchins of the village in our trail, 
and dashed ahead with great speed and splendour 
to the open gates of the country mansion. 

The whole family of Count and Countess TorlofF, 
servants and retainers, trouped out to welcome me, 
a proceeding that was full of patriarchal cordiality, 
but a little embarrassing for a novice. 



II 

Situated in the midst of the steppe, on the top 
of a gentle grassy slope leading to a broad river. 
Count Torloff's house was an oasis of refinement. 
His prosperity was reflected in the houses of his 
workers, who crowded round his dwelling like 
the children of one big family. Indeed, they 
owed their happy conditions to his energy and 
foresight, for when he had inherited the estate, 
it was a poor, barren waste. He had borrowed 
money and started to cultivate beet, built a sugar 
refinery, and by this venture into capitalistic 
development was able to re-build his own house 
and erect up-to-date houses for his employees. 

Count Torloff was Marshal of the Nobility and 
a member of the Council of Empire. Tall, stout 
and imposing, he was a typical Russian landowner 
of the old school. His dark, imperial beard and 
massive frame gave him rather a forbidding aspect, 
but there lurked in his clear, dark eyes a sprightly 
32 




COUNT TORLOFF WITH THE BANNER PRESENTED TO THE 
RUSSIAN TROOPS IN GALICIA. 



[To face p. 32. 



A Family of Nobles 

glimmer that told of a large and affectionate 
heart. Indeed, he was a model parent, giving 
his sons nothing but the best of examples in all 
respects. Every morning he rose early, read a 
portion of the Scriptures and visited his sons to 
give them his morning greeting, and discuss the 
day's programme. 

Countess Torloff was, likewise, a model parent. 
Nearing fifty years of age, she devoted herself to 
her sons' welfare as few women would care in 
other countries. Herself a woman of the highest 
cultivation (she detested " culture "), broad, gener- 
ous and noble of mind, she maintained a staunch 
adherence to the principles and practices of the 
Orthodox Church, and encouraged her sons to 
walk in the same path, keeping up their interest 
as well as her own in science, art, politics, religion, 
philosophy and sociology. 

It would be difficult for me to describe adequately 
the great hospitality I received at their hands. 
Everything that they could do for my comfort 
and entertainment was done, with a generous 
attention that was rather bewildering. There 
were horse-riding expeditions across the steppe 
and through the forests to neighbouring estates, 
usually ten miles distant, tennis, boating and 
picnics, the latter being arranged with the family 
of M. Bodkin, whom I had met at the station on 
the day of my arrival. The only trouble I experi- 
enced was due to the nightingales, which sang in 
scores on the bushes under my window with such 
a resounding richness and tirelessness that they 

c 33 



The Blue Steppes 

prevented me from sleeping. I have never seen 
so many nightingales or heard such rapturous 
v^arbling as in that remote corner of the Government 
of Koursk. 

In the warm, starry evening v^^e vv^ould sit on 
the balcony, overlooking the cool, tree-bordered 
river, and play bridge, the tall ex-Guardsman 
menservants keeping the candles in trim. Stakes 
never went very high, on principle, as so many 
Russians being dare-all fatalists and caring nothing 
of risking their estates at the card-table, Count 
Torloff had imposed on himself and his family a 
definite rule, and showed that he had sufficient will- 
power to keep it. 

About nine o'clock the hissing silver samovar 
would be brought out to the dining-table, at one 
end of the covered balcony, and there, in the 
mellow glow of the candles, wreathed about by 
the flitting moths, we drank fragrant tea and 
consumed delicious strawberries of the woods, 
which the barefoot village children had gathered 
and brought to the house for sale. 

Till long past midnight one heard the splash 
of the bathing peasants in the river, by the creaking, 
wooden bridge, and sound of balalaikas and the 
piping voices of the village maidens singing folk- 
songs. Something wistful, melancholy and half- 
suffering seemed always to ring in those far-off 
voices, wafted up on the fragrant breeze from the 
far-flung steppes and mingled with the fiery raptures 
of the myriad nightingales. 

A few days after my arrival, another English 

34 



A Family of Nobles 

visitor came. He was a venerable member of the 
Athenaeum, who was Invited for a week and 
stayed a month. It happened in this way. Countess 
Torloff racked her brains to invent the choicest 
menus for the delectation of her venerable guest, 
who made up for the traditional *' quiet hour " 
lifelessness of his club by displaying a discerning 
appetite for exquisite food. Bisque soup was on 
the menu one day and it was so well made that 
the venerable visitor ate more than was really 
good for him. He was obliged to remain In bed. 
When asked what he would like in order to get 
better, he replied : *' I think a litde bisque soup 
would restore my appetite and then I should feel 
quite well again ". It was thought Inadvisable, 
however, to indulge this fancy, but after his 
recovery he so Insisted on tasting once more that 
delicious soup that Countess Torloff restored it to 
the menu. As a result of this generosity, he was 
obliged to take to his bed for another week. On 
recovery he begged once more for the delightful 
liquid. His request was granted with much secret 
misgiving, and to the consternation of his host 
and hostess, the dear old man had to take to his 
bed for yet another week. Everyone was In 
despair, thinking he would remain for ever. Fortu- 
nately a timely letter arrived Inviting him to 
another estate in the Baltic Provinces, and thither 
he went, being largely dependent on invitations for 
his means of existence. 

About a fortnight after my arrival I was asked 
to go to a funeral at a neighbouring estate. 

35 



The Blue Steppes 

Questions elicited that it was the funeral of the 
very woman I had hoped so much to see. The 
description of her tallied exactly with the pic- 
turesque details given me by my chance companion 
on the train to Kharkov. I was very sorry to 
have missed the chance of seeing her alive, but 
decided to take the opportunity of witnessing a 
Russian funeral. 

We drove over to the estate, which lay at a 
distance of some twenty versts. Everyone who 
knew Agripina Dimitrievna was certain she would 
be as original in death as she had been in life. 
Driving up the avenue of birch-trees, and catching 
sight of the white, wooden columns before the 
door of the wooden house, and between them 
the tall figure of Nikanor, the ex-Guardsman 
manservant, one almost seemed to hear the dead 
woman's masterly voice calling out from the top 
of the steps : ** Nikanor ! Ni-ka-norr ! " and 
muttering wrathfully : " Son of a dog ! son of a 
dog ! " 

We discovered on arrival that the body had 
already been taken into the village church close 
by, where a service was about to begin. A host 
of mourners, nobles, servants and peasants, waited 
about, chattering and gesticulating. In the long 
dining-room stood the table with the funeral 
bakes and decanters of marsala. When all were 
assembled the last will and testament of the 
deceased woman was read. It had been her wish 
that the contents of this document should be 
revealed before anyone set out for the church, 

36 



A Family of Nobles 

where, in accordance with the Russian custom, 
her body was to he in the uncovered coffin until 
the solemn moment when the loving mourners 
took leave of the beloved departed one for the 
last time. In her testament she dwelt on that 
moment with strange insistence, describing with 
savoury eloquence the loving, sorrowing looks of 
those who mourned for her dead body, their 
heartfelt protestations of grief, their fervent prayers 
for the repose of her soul. But before that hap- 
pened she would sift the wheat from the chaff. 
She laid it down that her will was to be read 
beforehand, so diat none should mourn over her 
dead body who had shown no care for it alive, 
that none should protest the grief of their hearts 
as a cloak for their expectations in her will, that 
none should offer prayers for the repose of her 
soul who had offered none for her welfare and 
peace in life. 

As this was read out in a solemn, chanting voice 
by the thin-faced lawyer, a quivering silence 
electrified the assembled mourners. Eyes met eyes 
and turned quickly aside. Then somebody whis- 
pered into his neighbour's ear and the whole 
company cried out " Sh-sh-sh!" with indignation. 
The hot summer sunshine was pouring in through 
the open windows, casting a mocking glow over 
the taut features of the mourners, while the swarm 
of flies on the whitewashed ceiling danced and 
buzzed at every opening of the door by the 
peeping servants. 

At last, having lashed about her with a vigorous 

37 



The Blue Steppes 

hand, the testatrix came to the distribution of her 
estate, advising all those who were dissatisfied to 
stay away from the last rites. She left a cottage 
and a pension to Nikanor, who had served her 
" like a faithful hound ", trebled all the savings 
she had extracted from the servants as a lesson in 
thrift, gave them a year's wages, and left the rest 
of her estate to the one man she was to have 
married, but never did. She directed she should 
be buried in the white satin gown that had been 
prepared for her wedding, and requested her 
would-be husband to place in her hands a bouquet 
of white lilies such as she would have carried had 
she been crowned his bride. 

Such tenderness, such romantic memories in 
that poor, crusty heart ! Such a glow of fervid 
hopes under that hard, wrinkled surface ! Such 
wistful gentleness concealed behind those hard 
eyes, that had made a household tremble, behind 
that terrible voice that had scattered curses right 
and left, behind those claw-like hands that had 
laid so often about with the knotty walking-stick ! 
How could anyone keep back the fountain of 
tears ? Hot and fast they fell, stalwart men and 
proud women shedding them alike. 

Whatever the disappointments, whatever the 
previous feeling of the mourners had been, none 
stayed away from the last rites. They passed 
into the church with streaming eyes, crossing 
themselves a hundred times and murmuring prayers 
without end. As I, the last, left the room in the 
old house, I looked back and saw the swarm of 

38 



A Family oj Nobles 

summer flies on the white ceiling dancing like a 
thousand imps in the draught from the open door, 
and as I walked away, their excited buzzing 
seemed to me like the faint laughter of the ghost 
of the woman, who in that room had put piety 
into the hearts of her survivors with an invisible rod 
of iron. . . . 

In the gaudy church, the priests in their 
gorgeous copes were swinging censers and droning 
before the ikonastasis. In the centre of the nave 
stood the open coffin. The wax-like face of the 
ill-fated bride seemed to express a gentle smile. 
In her hands was a cross with a bunch of beautiful 
lilies, laid there by the one-time lover. After 
thirty years of absence, since he defaulted from 
the proposed marriage, he had returned for the 
funeral of his luckless bride. He was now governor 
of a provincial town. Only nine days before her 
death he had written to say he would like to 
renew her acquaintance, and was about to set out 
when the news of her sudden death arrived. Now 
he stood at the head of the mourners, desolate, and 
with head bowed down. 

The priests droned, waved the censers, and 
waddled about in and out of the doors of the 
ikonastasis, like a religious hide-and-seek, crossed 
themselves and bowed, stroked their beards and 
shook their long locks. The choir sang sweetly, 
now bursting into loud calls for mercy, now 
sinking their voices to a whisper. All the while 
the tapers burnt ghost-like in the incense-laden 
haze, shot through by shafts of twirling sunlight 

39 



The Blue Steppes 

from the high windows. Peasants pressed forward 
on all sides, filling the hot, stifling air with musty 
odours of leather and stale clothing. 

The fat deacon, straggle-bearded and pale-eyed, 
growled from the depths of his bowels and waddled 
about. A surly, dazed look was on his freckled 
face. The stifling heat and odours seemed to 
make him stagger. Once when he incensed the 
ikon of the Virgin, the bottom of the thurible 
struck the image and sent out a shower of live 
charcoal. 

The droning and waddling went on. It seemed 
to have no end, to lead nowhere. Suddenly a 
terrible thing tore a great shriek from the throats 
of the assembled mourners. Waddling round the 
bier, the half-dazed deacon caught his waving 
censer against a lighted taper. In a flash it toppled 
over, plunging its tiny flame into the lace and 
frills of the white wadding dress. In a moment the 
bier was a mass of flames. . . . 

I can smell it even now. Twelve years have 
passed since the day I was fated to see it, but never 
can I drive from my memory the sight of the 
flames leaping from the flimsy w^edding dress, 
the pungent odour of burning hair, the ghastly 
shrieks of the terrified mourners and, above all, 
the enormous round, white eyes of the unhappy 
man who was her " might have been ". 

He stood in the midst of the howling panic as 
silent, stock-still and aghast as the pillar of salt 
which was Lot's wife, with his face turned, like 
hers, towards the object of his dearest thoughts, 
40 



A Family of Nobles 

on which a dread, consuming fire had flashed like 
a bolt from the blue. The memory of that day 
is the first of many pinned by my experiences in 
Russia like a dark, odorous and mournful shadow 
on my soul. . . . 

The deacon had, it was afterwards revealed, 
taken his share of the marsala in the dining-room 
while the mourners were in the study listening to 
the reading of the will. 



41 



Chapte7^ III 

A FAMILY OF NOBLES 

[Continued) 

I 

COUNT TORLOFF lived at Bekino with 
his married brother and sister. These had 
their own houses and families at a distance 
of forty yards from the central house, so that one 
received the impression of a very close, patriarchal 
pitching of the family tents. Wishing to see 
everything and know everybody, I made the 
acquaintance of the village priest, his wife and 
family of fifteen, the village schoolmaster, a delight- 
fully well-read, balanced man, who was the author 
of several works on botany, and lived in a neat 
little log cabin by the schoolhouse. The workers 
invited me to their houses and I often had tea 
with them, sitting round a well-scrubbed table 
on hard benches and talking by the hissing 
samovar. I practised my first steps in Russian 
on these good souls, and they repeated the names 
of things to me with a patience and goodwill 
that were all the more lovable because they were 
for no reward. It was not until the following year, 
after I had spent a considerable time at the uni- 
42 



A Family of Nobles 

versity of Kharkov and could speak Russian 
fluently, that I hegan to penetrate the mystery of 
their nature. Then it was tliat I discovered tlie 
strange contrasts that flashed before one with 
startling suddenness, the passionate excitement and 
gaiety, the deep melancholy and despair, the 
gentlest manner and the most brutal violence. 
The same person would show the two faces within 
the space of five minutes, enchanting one widi 
the most generous kindness and repelling one 
with die exhibition of wildest ferocity. The 
savagery among these gentle-ferocious people was 
terrible. Not a week passed but some poor 
corpse was fished out of the river, stabbed or 
bound hand and foot, some bread-earner w^as done 
to death along the tracks, in the forests, or across 
the thresholds of the vodka cabins. Watching 
them dance and sing before their pretty white 
izbas, or kissing the cross held oat by the village 
priest in church, one could hardly believe their 
hearts would flash out such consuming lightnings, 
their hands perform such murderous deeds, or 
their lips express such atrocious blasphemies 
and obscenides. The latter were never punish- 
able by law, and on all sides one had to listen 
to the desecration of every possible person or 
thing. 

On the other hand there were cases where the 
poor helped the poor with heroic self-abnegation. 
I once went into an izba and found a family of 
twenty-three children ! So many of diem were 
of the same age that the poor mother must have 

43 



The Blue Steppes 

had triplets time after time. I made inquiries 
and discovered that a brother of the peasant had 
been killed, leaving a motherless family of seven, 
another brother had got drunk and fallen into 
the river, leaving a family of ten, whose mother 
had forthwith disappeared. All these orphans 
were taken into the two-roomed izba and looked 
after by the poor man and his wife. 

" We hoped the Lord would take the little 
ones," the woman said to me. " Here lots of 
babies die from flux. Every day the church bell 
rings for a little one. But no ! the Lord wills 
these little chicks should live. What to do ? 
Life is a sad business. To us, barin, it is pre- 
destined we should suffer. Christ was tortured. 
He busied himself, worked, suffered. God knows, 
we save our souls. Sometimes the food is not 
enough for all the hungry mouths, but we go 
without ourselves. The big ones are growing 
up. Already they go to work in the refinery, in 
the fields. Vanka is a clever boy. He is the 
quietest of the lot. He reads. He is to enter 
the office. He wants to learn, to become a 
student." 

She showed me the room where they all slept, 
father and mother, the family and the orphans. 
Some slept on the stove, the rest on the floor. 
Yet the room was not more than ten feet square. 
This good woman made every scrap of clothing 
for this great family herself, growing, retting and 
dressing the flax, spinning and weaving, cutting 
and sewing. The eldest boy made shoes from 

44 



A Family of Nobles 

birch-bark for them all. Except for occasional 
presents from Count Torloff, she had managed 
to do everything for the household on the small 
wages her husband earned at the flour mill, 
though now the earnings of the elder ones helped 
to satisfy the waxing appetites of the growing 
orphans. 

In almost every izba I entered, I discovered 
orphans taken into the family and cared for on a 
level with the rest of the numerous children. 

Now and again one came across sour-looking, 
surly young men who talked for hours and hours 
about socialism and revolution. They were chiefly 
the sons of peasants who had been to the uni- 
versities, paying their way by all sorts of means, 
and living in attics, starving, never washing, and 
leading anarchic, gross lives, through which shone 
the dark jewel of their desire for the light of know- 
ledge. " Knowledge is Ught " was their great 
watchword, caught from the lips of Tolstoy. 
Yet it was a strange conception of knowledge. 
They thirsted for the abstract, they pursued know- 
ledge as something desirable in itself. And when 
they got it, they were like an ostrich that has hatched 
a crocodile. It led them to despise all existing 
society. With no idea of breeding, they spurned 
" bourgeois " manners, loathed the "bourgeois" pro- 
fessions. Their "knowledge" gave them nothing but 
dissatisfaction with the world. Despising all "bour- 
geois " means of gaining a living, they nursed 
themselves in endless dreams and talks ot the 
future revolution and the socialist paradise. 

45 



The Blue Steppes 

Futile, garrulous and impractical, the only use 
they could find for their dearly acquired know- 
ledge was to despise the only decent means 
of applying it and earning a livelihood. " The 
revolution ! socialism ! the abolition of the 
bourgeois ! " Such was their constant cry, their 
futile dream. From such haters of practical 
society sprang the yearning for a proletarian 
world. Their peasant manners and origin clung 
to them always, and they seemed unable to part 
with them. 

Perhaps for this the blame lay largely with the 
Russian aristocracy and the caste system, by which 
there were only two officially recognized and 
distinctly separate classes, the nobles and the 
peasants. The middle classes in the towns were 
still officially peasants domiciled in towns. And 
the arrogance with which the distinction was 
maintained by the bureaucracy, the haughtiness 
of the nobles, their constant and loudly expressed 
contempt for others, their boastings and vanities, 
their violent attachment to their privileges, must 
have lain at the bottom of this sullen mentality of 
the peasant-student. 

In this respect, I remember the sudden revela- 
tion of a Russian trait which came to me a few 
days after my arrival at the estate of Count 
Torloff. We went out for a drive after tea. 
Countess Torloff invited me to sit in the carriage 
with her, while Count Torloff drove the second 
carriage, sitting on the box with the coachman. 
We took a long trip through the leafy forests, 

46 



A Family of Nobles 

walked about on the odorous, thyme-covered, sandy- 
steppe and then returned to the carriages. On 
the way back we encountered a man in a student's 
uniform sitting astride a droshky, a vehicle like a 
long pole on four wheels. He was driving on 
the right side of the track in accordance with 
the rule. 

Wishing her carriage to pass straight on without 
making a detour, Countess Torloff called out to 
him : " Give the way ! " 

The man took no notice of this order, but 
calmly continued his jolting road. 

*' Give the way ! Give the way ! " Countess 
Torloff called out again. Meeting with no 
response, she stopped the carriage and turned to 
her husband on the box of the carriage behind. 
She explained the matter to him indignantly. 
Throwing the reins into the hands of the coachman, 
he seized the whip and leaping down into the 
track, ran up to the man on the droshky, 
lashed him furiously with the whip, seized the 
reins of his horse and held the vehicle. The 
man lay in the dust, protesting his right to the 
road. 

Ordering the coachman to mount the droshky 
and drive it to the house. Count Torloff returned 
to his box. That evening the student had to 
appear at the house for the return of his horse 
and vehicle, and was fined a large sum by Count 
Torloff, who was a justice of the peace, for 
" insulting behaviour to the nobility ! " 

Such a procedure both surprised and grieved 

47 



The Blue Steppes 

me, for I held my hosts in great esteem and 
admired the general decency and charitableness 
of their lives. But I recognized, later on, that 
this sudden manifestation of autocratic power and 
fury was common to the nation in whatever class, 
and was one of the many mysterious facets of 
that strange collection of primitive and mystic 
forces, the Russian soul. 

There was, of course, a common saying among 
Russians that " Russia needs the whip " and no 
doubt there were many who thought they had 
little else to do but apply it. But during the 
five years of my intimate acquaintance with the 
Torloff family, this was the only incident of its 
nature that I witnessed. Nevertheless, it was a 
revelation of prevailing views and relationships, 
and explains in some measure the intense hatred 
and demoniac feelings of so many of the Bolshe- 
vists when they assumed power. Such a state of 
mind is entirely foreign to Anglo-Saxon countries, 
and being a manifestation of the sinister spirit of 
hatred and merciless reprisals, is altogether out of 
keeping with the noble Anglo-Saxon mind, in 
its general aims and ideals. In that respect, the 
English-speaking countries have nothing to learn 
but all to lose in copying the methods of Russia. 

II 

Bekino was the village portrayed in Riepine's 
famous picture of the procession of the ikon, so I 
looked forward to seeing that event. The wonder- 

48 



A Family of Nobles 

working Ikon was to be brought from a neigh- 
bouring monastery on its way back to its final 
resting-place in the church at Koursk. Never 
once was it allowed to halt on that long journey, 
not once must it be allowed to rest or be carried 
odierwise than on running feet. From village 
to village it passed, the strong men going out to 
meet it half-way from the last village and carrying 
it on running feet half-way to the next. Already 
at five in the morning of the great day the bells 
of the village church were ringing, the big bells 
booming and the little lady bells tinkling up in 
the top of the tower like dancing jesters. Mounting 
our horses, we rode through the dusty village 
track, past the white izbas where the peasants 
were busy putting on their best kerchiefs and 
print frocks, past the waste ground, dotted with 
mounds and broken wooden crosses, where 
the village dead were buried and the village 
geese and pigs were foraging, across the long, 
creaking, rotten bridge and up the chalk hill 
to where one could see the long, long road 
winding away white and dusty into the golden 
horizon. 

A warm breeze was blowing from the far-flung 
corn fields, where the larks were singing and 
soaring in the bright golden rays of the early 
sun. The fresh dew glittered like millions of 
fairy diamonds on the shaggy grass by the road- 
side. Up the sandy hill from the village came the 
stalwart peasants, young and old, yellow-haired 
and white, their pale eyes fixed on the quivering 
D 49 



The Blue Steppes 

horizon where the white road dwindled into a 
dim speck. Barefoot women and children followed 
in hundreds, old, toothless, wrinkled hags hobbled 
behind, clutching their knotty sticks and smiling 
through their age-weary eyes. On, on, they 
went, down the dusty track towards the unseen 
ikon. . . . 

We waited with the priests, deacons and blue- 
clad choir with incense and chants. Down the 
hill the bells of the church boomed and jingled, 
sending a rapturous joy through the clear, morning 
air. More people came from the village and stood 
with the waiting clergy, crossing themselves con- 
stantly and gazing towards the horizon. At last a 
faint something moved like a pin-head against 
the hem of the blue sky. A great shout rose from 
the throats of the watchers : 

" They come ! they come ! " 

With flushed faces and excited gestures, they 
rushed forward, turned back to the waiting 
priests, waved their arms, shrieked with joy, and 
rushed forward once more. No one seemed able 
to keep still. At last the surging wave of humanity 
from out the far horizon came nearer and nearer, 
growing blacker against the white road and stream- 
ing forward like a torrent. A great, flashing fire 
of gold burnt in the midst of them, where the 
rays of the rising sun struck the shrine of the 
holy ikon. It was like a fiery vessel rolUng 
forward on a black torrent. On, on, they came. 
The nearer they approached the louder sounded 
the hum of the myriad voices and the wafted 

50 



A Family of Nobles 

chanting of a monotonous invocation. Around 
the silent priests lay the sick, the halt nnd 
the blind of the neighbouring villages. Parents 
and friends stood by their sides, appealing in 
sad, monotonous voices for prayers on their 
behalf, chanting the history of each sufferer and 
describing his or her sufferings with pathetic 
eloquence. 

At last the holy ikon, enclosed in a high, golden 
tabernacle and surrounded with lights and flowers, 
came rushing by, held aloft on two long hori- 
zontal poles. As the running carriers grew tired, 
they dropped out, yielding their places to fresh 
men. Mothers held up the children to see the 
wonder-working Virgin, glittering radiantly in 
her gem-studded robe of beaten gold. The sick 
and lame held up their hands in supplication, the 
priests chanted and the deacons swung their cen- 
sers. Too soon the flashing ikon swayed by, 
carrying with it the fervid hopes and expectations 
of so many suffering hearts. The great roar of 
chanting voices, that had swelled up the long track 
like a mighty wave, passed with the multitude 
over the brow of the hill and subsided in the open 
plain below. But we did not follow the sight of 
the black, human stream. We turned to the 
sufferers who were struggling with their fallen 
hopes. Too many, alas, had been passed by, 
though a few showed marvellous signs of recovery. 
A " klikoosha," a sort of epileptic, ceased from 
her palsy and kissed the cross which the priest 
held out to her. A child with the whooping-cough 

51 



The Blue Steppes 

(jumbled with half a dozen other children) was 
said to have recovered. 

In the wake of the running crowd came pilgrims 
and beggars. Two white-bearded, blind men led 
each other, singing beautiful old folk-legends of 
the sufferings of Christ in delightfully mellow 
voices. When the last pilgrim straggled past, 
we turned our horses and rode into the slumber- 
ing forest, winding round the mossy tracks till 
we halted for goat's milk at the hut of the 
forest hermit. He was sitting at his door, 
reading laboriously an old Slavonic manuscript 
of St. John Chrysostom. When questioned 
about his reading, he answered with such deep- 
toned, rhythmic eloquence and wisdom that 
we were all surprised so much beauty could 
fall from the lips of this rugged old man of 
the woods. 

Returning through the village, we found that 
the running pilgrimage of the holy ikon had 
left nothing but groups of chattering peasants 
before the doors of the white izbas. The bells of 
the church were booming and dancing their last 
joyful message, while the sick and the lame were 
returning to their homes. 

I still remember vividly the peaceful beauty of 
that radiant morning, and hold like a fadeless 
treasure the picture of that glittering ikon on the 
shoulders of the running peasants, the enthusiasm, 
the prayers, the uplifted hands of the unfortunate, 
the joy of faith in the eyes of the old, wrinkled 
hags. Whatever the worldly estimate of these 
52 



A Family of Nobles 

things may be, they strike a deeper note in the 
mysterious chords of the heart than the sight of a 
cup-tie crowd seething with enthusiasm at tlie 
passing of a ball. There, no hands are uplifted, 
no prayers are murmured and no old eyes arc 
made joyful with the light of faith. . . . 



53 



Chapter IV 



THE END OF 

A FAMILY OF NOBLES 



I 



XVTTHEN WAR BROKE OUT, I was staying 
Wf with the aged mother of Countess TorlofF 
at her estate near Moscow. There, too, 
reigned that indescribable peace and remoteness 
which casts such a spell of melancholy over the 
Russian country. We had heard very little about 
the prospect of war. The Moscow newspapers 
arrived about five in the evening, but the affairs 
of the world seemed so far away that no one 
troubled about them. No great current of feeling 
could ever sweep through the Russian countryside 
as in smaller countries. For one thing, hardly 
five out of every hundred peasants could read. 
So the village teacher and priest had their cultured 
excitements all for themselves. One day at lunch 
a telegram arrived for Count Kuzoff, the officer 
brother of Countess Torloff. He read it, and 
springing up, declared to the astonished household 
that mobilization had been ordered. He left the 
table at once and went back to Petersburg. 

On the day of the declaration of war, we 

54 



The End of a Family oj Nobles 

motored Into Moscow and witnessed the great 
demonstrations. On the Kuznetsky Most, the 
mob invaded the shops of German piano dealers 
and threw Bechstein pianos from the upper storeys. 
Everywhere bands were heard playing " God Save 
the Tsar ", while people wept, embraced and knelt 
in the streets. Russia seemed to leap out of 
herself. Alas, that it was too fierce a fire ! 

We motored back to Kharkov by the eternal 
macadamized causeway that runs for hundreds 
of miles like a straight, white ribbon through the 
vastest stretch of black earth in the world. To 
find a single stone that had not been imported 
by man was almost as rare as finding a diamond. 

At intervals we paid toll at the toll-gates. All 
the peasants' horses shied and bolted at the sight 
of the motor-car. For miles and miles one saw 
nothing but the harvest fields, the vast forests, 
and here and there, the straggling thatched huts of 
the villages like companies of grey mice. We 
stayed the night at Orel, consumed excellent 
beefsteaks with Worcester sauce and continued 
our journey under the clear smile of the rising sun. 
Once more there stretched before us the long, 
interminable way, the interminable fields, the dark 
forests. Here and there we passed pilgrims trudging 
along with crook and bundle, their eyes fixed 
glassily on the never-ending trail. Monotony, 
monotony, on every side as far as the eye could 
see, and that for hundreds of miles ! I do not 
wonder the Russians take to vodka, especially 
when the enormous plain lies like a silent desert 



The Blue Steppes 

of snow for eight months of the year. And the 
peasant student, returning to his native village 
with no other society but that of the *' benighted " 
peasants, was inevitably held in the grip of this 
vast, grey plain and could find no other culture to 
suit his sullen lieart. 

In Kharkov, after the outbreak of war, I acted 
as interpreter for various groups of prisoners of 
war, who were being distributed over Russia. 
My knowledge of Italian was particularly useful 
for dealing with the Austro-Italian soldiers. I 
also censored letters in foreign languages and was 
surprised to find that the German bank clerk I 
had met on the train the year of my arrival was 
sending information about the strength of the 
Russian reserves and their proposed movements, 
details of the ammunition supplies and the output 
of the local factories. How I discovered this was 
almost a miracle. The letter was addressed to a 
bank in Stockholm and read just like an ordinary 
banking letter. 

A chattering friend happened to drop in to see 
me as I was reading the letter through. It was 
written in German. I laid it down casually on 
the table and listened to my friend's animated 
description of the French victories. He unfolded 
a map and began tracing the movements of the 
German armies in their lightning sweep towards 
Paris. In his excitement he laid his lighted 
cigarette on the bank's letter. Whisking it off, I 
looked to see whether any damage had been done. 
There was a small brown spot in between the 

56 



The JEnd of a Family of Nobles 

typewritten lines. To my surprise, I noticed 
that this spot revealed a couple of letters in German 
schrift. A further application of heat disclosed 
a secret communication between the lines of the 
whole letter, written in invisible ink. The letter 
being addressed to a Stockholm bank, it must 
have been expected by a man who knew what to 
find between the lines. 

The German bank clerk was questioned about 
the matter, but no action against him was taken. 
The pro-German influence was too strong in 
official quarters, especially among the military. 
Had he been a Russian, he would probably have 
paid the penalty, but Germans in Russia were 
looked up to as models of honesty, and they 
enjoyed a privileged position even during the 
war, because the ruling officials of German blood 
and pride would not suffer any diminution of 
German prestige in the eyes of the Russian people. 

Truth compels me to state that I noticed among 
the official classes a tendency to insult and ridicule 
the people who came within their power. This 
tendency reached diabolical proportions under 
Bolshevism, so I rather think it is ingrained in the 
Russian nature. Russians are such congenital 
anarchists, that once they hold power they become 
cruel tyrants. There was certainly no blood lust 
and infernal hatred among the old official classes 
as I later on observed and personally experienced 
among the Bolshevist tyrants, but the attitude and 
frame of mind from which these manifestations 
sprang were clearly discernible. 

S7 



The Blue Steppes 

At the beginning of the war many humbler 
Russo-Germans changed their names to Russian 
ones. To do so they had to petition the Tsar, 
which meant, of course, the bureaucracy. No 
difficuhy was put in their way. Germans were 
always considered and treated as ** superior per- 
sons ". But when simple Russians applied, they 
met with callous snubs. There is a typical case in 
my personal knowledge. A young peasant's son 
had worked his way through the university and 
fulfilled his ambition to be a doctor. The name 
he was born with passed very well in the primitive 
life of the peasantry, where no social inconveniences 
were suffered. But entering on his career as a 
doctor, the young man found his name a draw- 
back, particularly as he had specialized in obstetrics. 
His name was Nyezakonorojhdionny, which trans- 
lated means Illegitimate. There are in England 
families who are very proud of their historical 
name of Bastard, but this young doctor did not 
like the prospect of advertising himself as " Dr. 
Illegitimate, specialist in midwifery ". He, there- 
fore, petitioned for a change of name, with the 
customary formula of *' your most humble, loyal 
subject, casting myself at your feet ", etc. 

When the petition was granted, it was left to 
the bureaucracy to decide the future name. In 
this case, they imposed on the doctor, " in the 
name of the Autocratic Emperor of all the Russias " 
the name of SinyepoopofF, which translated means 
" Blue-navel ". 

There were shrieks of laughter whenever the 

58 



The Knd of a Family of Nobles 

bureaucrats related this to one another. To mc it 
seemed a revolting abuse of power, but to them it 
was amusing. The difference between them and 
their Bolshevist successors seemed to be that the 
latter carried this hideous trait to diabolical heights. 
The lust to make fun of, to torture the people in 
their power, seems to me the principal idea of 
Russian despotism. It was carried out by Ivan 
the Terrible, by Peter the Great, never died 
altogether even under milder autocracy, and burst 
out afresh with medieval frightfulness under the 
domination of the merciless Bolshevists. One 
hardly ever escapes it even in the best of Russians, 
for those who revolt against this tyrannical trait 
almost always take refuge in mysticism, acknow- 
ledging the terrible yoke and pleading that it is 
Russia's mystical destiny to suffer. It was curious 
to note how it often went hand -in-hand with the 
most delicate fancifulness, poetry, music and 
gentleness of manner. For any real comparison 
one must go to the romantic calm of a great sea, 
which conceals beneatli its alluring surface the other 
aspect of raging waters and the fury of the tempest. 
The Russian revolution is hardly a revolt against 
Capitalism, but against the terrible psychological 
nightmares bred in the Russian mind by ages of 
tyranny. 

II 

Occasionally I was asked to accompany wagon- 
loads of material, such as gas-masks, woollen 
socks, shirts and other comforts for the soldiers 

59 



The Blue Steppes 

in the trenches, fashioned by patriotic women and 
girls in the various teaching establishments and 
sewing circles. They were sent down to the 
Galician base under the auspices of the Red Cross 
Society. I did this work for a considerable 
period, but resigned at last owing to the wholesale 
abuses which begun to sweep the entire organiza- 
tion of supplies. Not only were there grave, 
appalling cases of peculation, but a revolting dis- 
regard for the lives of the unfortunate soldiers. 
Rascally contractors in high places did not hesitate 
to supply blank cartridges for the army. In the 
case of the woollen comforts and gas-masks for 
the army in Galicia, I was horrified to find that 
on arrival with my trust at Brody or Lemberg, it 
was sold to the Jewish speculators who abound in 
that country. These in their turn extracted the 
last copeck from the poorly paid soldiers for the 
woollen socks and scarves, shirts and gloves, etc., 
although all of them had been furnished gratis by 
the patriotic women and girls in the far-off home 
districts. The Russian officials were highly tempt- 
able and the unscrupulous Galician Jews were 
ever ready " to do business ". The unhappy 
Russian peasant soldier either had to yield up 
his last copeck or pass that terrible winter with 
inadequate clothing, even when he penetrated 
heroically across the snow-covered heights into 
Hungary. My protests being of no avail, I gave 
up the job of safeguarding Red Cross material to 
the base, since I was merely conveying it into 
the jaws of sharks. When I complained to the 
60 



The End of a Family of Nobles 

chief official he shrugged his shoulders, laid his 
hand on my shoulder and said, with a gentle 
smile of commiseradon : *' What to do, dear 
friend ? Here, everybody does it. Do you not 
know what Turgueniev said about it ? ' Every 
little bee likes to take a little sip from every little 
flower.' So w^e. It is not important. You see, 
it is not shedding of blood. Don't worry your 
litde noddle, dear friend." 

So I gave up that work and, knowing several 
languages, offered my services to the Bridsh War 
Office, who were in need of British interpreters. 
They sent me in reply a printed form declaring 
" they had received thousands of similar offers, 
but had noted my name ". It remained in notable 
obscurity for ever after. I turned once more to 
the Russians, who, in spite of all their defects, 
had no such nonsense as noting one's name, or 
sending out printed forms. I kept the form. It 
served me in good stead after the revolution, 
for when a zealous Bolshevist commissar suspected 
me of being a spy because I knew Russian so well, 
I proved to him, by means of the War Office's 
printed form, that it w^as precisely my knowledge 
of foreign languages which prevented me from 
being employed by the British, for very few of 
those sent out to Russia knew Russian. 

When my Russian friends used to ask me why I 
preferred to work for the Russians, I simply pointed 
to the framed printed form on the wall. It was 
through Count Torloff's kindness that I was given 
a chance of using my languages for the work of 

6i 



The Blue Steppes 

interpreting and translating in connection with the 
prisoners of war. I was grateful for this task, 
for all my efforts to go as interpreter to the Italian 
front with the British expedition were in vain, 
although I had been brought up in the neigh- 
bourhood of the Lake of Garda and knew the war 
district well. 

Nevertheless, by working for the Russians, I 
was fated to witness the end of my good friends. 
Count Torloff' and his brother. 

In April 191 8, having been to visit old friends 
in Kharkov, I made a trip into the country to 
see Count Torloff and his family. The Bolshe- 
vists were in power and already staining the soil of 
Russia with torrents of innocent blood. 

The factories were in the hands of Soviets, 
while the large corn-producing and beet-growing 
estates were taken and divided up by the peasants. 
In the case of Count Torloff's beet-sugar refinery, 
it was obvious there must be a conflict between 
the peasants who claimed the land in order to 
satisfy their " land famine " and the workers at 
the refinery, who would have no sugar to refine if 
the beet-growing estate was broken up. The estate 
and the refinery were one entity. Whatever may 
have been the real motives of the factory workers, 
whether, as they declared, they wished the manage- 
ment to go on as before in Count Torloff and his 
brother's hands because of their own incompetence, 
or whether they wished to make a stronger case 
against the peasants, the fact remains that they 
made Count Torloff's brother president of their 
62 



The End of a Family of Nobles 

Soviet and looked to him for guidance. But 
there were two other agitating individuals on the 
scene. They were M. Bronstein, the works 
manager, and M. Gurevich, a student who had 
been invited by Count Alexander Torloff to coach 
his sons for the Lyceum examination. Both these 
persons were Jews, and had been given their positions 
without any discrimination of creed or race. 

After the revolution the two men declared 
themselves ardent Bolshevists and set out to assert 
their power over the whole estate and refinery. 
Perhaps it was to counter them that both the 
peasants and the workers sank their differences for 
a while and looked to their former masters for 
assistance. 

Bronstein and Gurevich were furious at the 
action of the workers and peasants, and, declaring 
that they alone were true representatives of Soviet 
authority, started to secure their nefarious ends by 
drastic means. Gurevich went to Kharkov to 
the Red Army. A detachment of Red Guards 
were sent down, and, lest they should alarm the 
workers, were secreted at the little railway station 
at which I had alighted five years previously. 
Gurevich was with them and telephoned to the 
country house to say that a deputation was waiting 
at the station and wished to discuss affairs with 
the Counts Torloff. At the same time a number 
of soldiers arrived and ordered the people of the 
house to drive to the station. In the copse known 
as Malenki Bor, Count Torloff and his male 
relations were suddenly ordered out of the carriages 

63 



The Blue Steppes 

and shot dead, their blood-stained bodies lying 
ghastly on the ground. . . . 

That day the terrified widows gathered their 
children about them and fled, leaving everything 
to the blood-stained hands of Bronstein and Gure- 
vich. These entered into full control of the 
refinery and sold the stock of sugar at fabulous 
prices. 

Such was the end of a family of nobles. 



Alighting one day in September 1924 at the 
Gare St. Lazare in Paris, I tried to find a vacant 
taxi among the departing crowd. Every cab was 
taken already. I put my bag down and was pre- 
paring to wait, when a taxi drove up and put 
down a fare before me. I pounced on the vacant 
vehicle at once. To my amazement, the man at 
the wheel called out my name with an exclamation 
of surprise. Flinging out a grimy hand, he gripped 
my arm. 

" Don't you remember me ? " he asked. " I'm 
Sasha Torloff." 

Indeed, it was my old friend, the son of Count 
Torloff, who was murdered far away in Russia 
four years previously. Escaped with nothing but 
an old suit and a pair of mouldy boots, he had 
arrived in Poland with the coin of hope in his 
heart, and the joy of being at last beyond the 
teeth of the Soviet sharks. 

Now he is earning his living as a taxi-driver 
with a courage that speaks well for Russia's future, 
64 



The End of a Family of Nobles 

when the nightmare of Bolshevism is no more. 
For thousands of his fellow-countrymen are work- 
ing with the same courage as he, after they had 
known the richest ease and comfort. 

I went to his humble room, up a musty old 
staircase in an ancient house near the church of 
St. Sulpice, and saw his cousin, a lad of eighteen, 
who works hard in a factory by day and attends 
aristocratic gatherings in the evening with undi- 
minished elegance and savoir faire. 

Their only complaint is that some workers are 
hostile to them because of their breeding, blind 
to the noble courage of their suffering, deep- 
seared, youthful hearts, and still nursing the mad 
delusion that Soviet Russia has other to offer the 
majority of workers than communistic chains, 
famine and torrents of blood. 

The family of nobles is gone, but such a noble 
family can never die. 



Chapter V 

THE ERA OF RASPUTIN 

SAINT OR SINNER? Anyone who has 
lived in Russia long enough knows that 
in that semi-oriental country, one can be 
both at the same time. The fatal doctrine of 
all-forgiveness having ousted the old ascetic 
Christian conceptions, set holiness beyond the 
narrow frame of conventional morality. To sin 
was human nature, to forgive, man's participation 
in the divine. Not seven times, but seventy. 
This doctrine led, of course, to strange results. 
As fast as one offended, one forgave, as fast as one 
forgave, one offended. Punishment was a cruelty, 
an injustice, a lack of Christianity. Not to forgive 
was the only crime. The all-embracing Russian 
mind seemed to square the circle of moral sin. 
The Western religious sense of legality in righteous- 
ness was lacking. Anarchy seemed so natural to 
the Russian soul that even its religion was emptied 
of its binding form. While accepting the tradi- 
tional teaching of the necessity of conformity to 
the moral law, the Russian Church seemed never 
to have been able to graft it on to the nihilistic 
Russian soul. The Russians themselves freely 
66 



The Era of Rasputin 

admit that they lack positive " character ". The 
actions of most Russians are like a moving picture of 
emotions without any abiding distinction of right 
or wrong. Sin and you will be forgiven. Not 
seven times, but seventy, that is, ad injimtum. 
Conventionality, reputation, respectability, public 
opinion as positive forces did not exist. " We 
Russians ", Madame Olga Novikoff declared, 
" never kneel to deities of that kind. We must 
have something solid, a religious ' categorical im- 
perative', as the Germans say." And the only 
religious imperative that prevailed was that of 
all-forgiveness. Moral integrity, as a thing of 
honour every Western man desires and strives for, 
did not exist. There could be no distinction of 
persons where everything was forgiven as fast as 
one offended. The Western idea of righteousness, 
of merit in conforming to the law, had no practical 
value. Saints were those who were filled with 
this mystic all-love, all-forgiveness. Man was 
justified by forgiveness. No one could say of 
another that he was morally better than any other. 
No one troubled to observe the law, only to for- 
give. So to expect any stability, any positive 
force in the law, was out of the question. People 
went on their endless circle of offence and for- 
giveness from one year's end to the other. In 
the long run it seemed that neither offence nor 
forgiveness had any meaning. They were just 
national habits. There was none who could say : 
" Now this is the last time ! " Such a person 
would have been held up to public opprobrium as 

67 



The Blue Steppes 

an inhuman monster, a heartless being, for as 
every student of Russian knows in Dostoievsky's 
words : " The heart rules Russia ". 

From this it is obvious that no organism, whether 
of personality, the individual or the State, could 
save itself from disintegration. The positive law 
was ever being drained of its life-blood by this 
mental Nihilism, whether religious or political. 
Conscience, as Western people understand it, did 
not exist. That was quite natural, for no law 
existed which could not be broken with the 
expectation of entire forgiveness, seventy times a 
day. With the prevalence of such an anarchical, 
nihilistic mentality, it is not surprising that the 
only ''categorical imperative" that was effective 
outside of certain highly cultured individuals, was 
the knout, the iron hand, force. This is well 
illustrated in the popular proverb : " Christ Him- 
self would steal, if His hands weren't nailed to the 
cross." 

Yet here again, force became impotent, because 
the very people employed to apply it, needed it 
themselves to keep them in the path of the law. 
In no other country of the world has there ever 
been such a tremendous network of agents and 
counter-agents, spies, counter-spies and counter- 
counter-spies, as there was and is in Russia. The 
result, however, has always been a happy-go-lucky, 
nichevo, lax, corrupt state of affairs, coupled with 
fearful iniquities and ferocious repressions. For 
as fast as "justice " was done, the evil cropped up 
again, like an everlasting, irradicable weed. 
68 



The Era of Rasputin 

Most Russians, with a frankness that is ahnost 
breath-bereaving, relate their shortcomings, some- 
times, it would appear, with morbid enjoyment. 
To Westerns, schooled for ages in righteousness 
and respectability, honour and so forth, this seems 
almost incredible. But there is nothing unusual 
in this for a Russian. He loses nothing. These 
" deities " were never his and never affect him. 
In fact, he enjoys analysing himself, as he does 
everything. I talk of the typical Russian, not of 
those very few who love their country with a 
Western kind of patriotism. But they are infini- 
tesimal, and it is just they who have always pro- 
claimed the indispensability of autocracy and the 
knout for keeping their fellow-countrymen in order. 
" Russia needs the whip " was their favourite 
slogan. Not only they, but all who have ruled 
Russia have applied it ; the Tsars tempered it 
with happy-go-lucky mercy, the Bolshevists wield 
it with merciless inhumanity. 

Russians like to speak for themselves. Here is 
the declaration of a Bolshevik : ^ 

'* The Russian question must be looked at 
from its own point of view and not from yours, 
for we have rejected civilization and culture. Of 
these we have retained nothing and we despise 
them in your countries, for they are qualities that 
are not practical. Our strength is in the fact that 
we have become savages again. From a humani- 
tarian point of view, the qualities demanded by 
the struggle for life are brutal, coarse, base and 

' La Revue Universelley April 1923. 

69 



The Blue Steppes 

ugly. . . . We have no word of honour, and 
there is no promise of ours to France, England or 
Germany we dream of keeping. But one will 
believe us, all countries will believe us, for no 
one knows our mentality, no one understands 
our soul. 

" This mentality is the same as has always existed 
in the masses of the Russian people. The credit 
which was once given to Russia was based upon a 
misunderstanding. The Russia of the Tsar, the 
well-bred, well-educated Russia of the upper 
classes, who had in their veins 96 per cent, of 
foreign blood, was the screen behind which lay 
concealed the true Russia, which nobody, neither 
the foreigners nor the Russian intellectuals, knew. 
The screen has fallen and now the horrified world 
thinks it is looking at the face of the Cheka " 
[the Bolshevist Terror]. 

It was to this Russia that the upper classes 
themselves seemed to have succumbed. Previously 
they had despised it, even refusing to speak the 
Russian language, but since the creation of a 
national literature, art and " culture ", they turned 
to it with as much fervour as they had formally 
held it in contempt. Till then, they had been the 
bearers of European civilization to Russia. Yet 
under this fertilization from above, the mysterious 
soil of the native Russian soul began to produce a 
fruit in accordance with its nature. A sort of 
intermediary class between prince and peasant 
came into being and grew. Its gospel was Nihi- 
lism. It was the fruit of European civilization 
70 



The 'Era nj Rasputin 

transplanted into the steppes. It dissolved. Tur- 
guenieff noted the rise of this tide in Fathers 
and Sons. By the time of the revolution of 
1905 it had swamped all classes, save a small 
section of patriots held up to universal execration 
as the " Black Hundred ". European culture 
became merely a gilded relic even among the 
haughty aristocracy. 

When I wrote of my experiences of this period 
of Russian history in a former work, some people, 
ignorant of the real Russia, were fearfully shocked. 
I will quote, therefore, what Russians themselves 
have to say about their country. 

Madame Vyroubova, the friend of the Empress, 
declares in her Memoirs : ^ "I must tell the truth, 
otherwise it would have been better for me never 
to have written. Yet to picture in anything like 
its true colours the decadence of Petrograd society 
from 1 9 14 onward is a task from which every 
loyal Russian must shrink. Without a knowledge 
of these conditions, however, students of the 
Russian revolution will never be able to under- 
stand why the fabric of government slipped so 
easily from the feeble hands of the Provincial 
Government to the ruthless and bloody grasp of 
the Bolshevists. 

"During the entire winter of 191 5, when 
millions of Allies were giving up their lives in 
the cause of freedom, the aristocracy of the Russian 
capital was indulging in a reckless orgy of dancing, 
sports, dining, yes, and wining also, in spite of the 

' Memoirs of the Russian Court, 1923 (Macmillan). 

71 



The Blue Steppes 

Emperor's edict against alcohol, spending enormous 
sums for gowns and jewels, and in every way 
ignoring the fact that the world was on fire and 
civilization was battling for its very life. . . . 
Society, when it was not otherwise amusing itself, 
was indulging in a new and madly exciting game 
of intrigue against the throne. To spread slanders 
about the Empress, to inflame the simple minds of 
workmen against the State was the most popular 
diversion of the aristocracy. . . . Russia, like 
eighteenth-century France, passed through a period 
of acute insanity. ... It pervaded the Duma, the 
highest ranks of society, Royalty itself, all as 
guilty of Russia's ruin as the most bloodthirsty 
terrorist. . . . For years before the revolution 
the national spirit was in a state of decline. Few 
men or women cherished ideals of duty for duty's 
sake. Patriotism was practically extinct. Family 
life was weakened, and, in the last days, the morale 
of the whole people was lower than in almost any 
other country of the civilized world." 

As to the bourgeoisie, Mr. Stephen Graham 
wrote in 1915:1 "If once the Russian nation 
becomes thoroughly perverted, it will be the 
most treacherous, most vile, most dangerous in 
Europe. For the perverted Russian all is possible ; 
it is, indeed, his favourite maxim, that all is permit- 
ted, and by ' all ' he means all abomination, all fearful 
and unheard-of bestiality, all cruelty, all falsity, all 
debauch." 

It seems a pity that some people did not read 

I Changing Russia, \(^\t^. 
72 



The Era of Rasputin 

this in 191 5. It would have spared them the 
trouble of being shocked when they read my 
experiences in 1925. 

Mr. Graham sums up the Russian bourgeois as 
follows : " Selfish as it is possible to be, crass, 
heavy, ugly, unfaithful in marriage, unclean, im- 
pure, incapable apparently of understanding the 
good and true in their neighbours and in life — 
such is the Russian bourgeois." 

As for the intelligentsia, who had rejected religion 
as a relic of susperstition and were striving for 
power, screaming out to the world for sympathy, 
their mass movement is best described by a foreign 
observer : ^ 

" After the appearance of Artzibastcheff's novel 
Sanin in 1907, free love was propagated with a 
passion as never before, and numberless ' wild 
marriages ' were made, in which the emphasis is 
to be laid more on the wildness than on the 
marriage. Numerous intellectuals wTre possessed 
by sensual madness and vied with one another in 
orgiastic extravagances. The barriers between 
the sexes were suddenly overthrown and the 
natural boundaries which shame and morality 
have set up in the relations of the sexes were 
boldly ignored. Chastity ? A ridiculous atavism ! 
Fidelity ? A notion of the Flood-age ! A man 
who drove himself to his grave with excess was 
looked upon as a genius. A very race after sensual 
pleasures began, and the winner was the man who 
became most like a monkey. The cynical sex- 

^ Dr. Rosenburg, Figuren der Russischen Literatur, Munich, 191 9. 



The Blue Steppes 

communism of ArtzibastchefF's book was the 
new gospel of the Russian intelligentsia before 
the war." 

Those who opposed this terrible gospel were 
ignominiously labelled *' reactionaries, Powers of 
Darkness, Black Hundred ". The " latest dictum 
of science " left them in a sad, unenviable back- 
water. The great tide was carrying the nation on 
to materialistic glory. . . . 

Such was the soil on which Bolshevism spermed, 
itself the apotheosis of the evil forces from 
which it drew its life. It was there, thrusting 
its hideous face into one's eyes long before Lenin 
established it as the system of the Communist 
paradise. 

As to religion itself, it seemed to have no con- 
nection with conscience, except when, crossing 
himself and bowing before the ikons, the Russian 
would swear that he was telling the truth when 
all the time he was telling a lie. Mysticism, 
however, abounded. 

There is a poem by Alexander Blok, Russia's 
greatest modern poet, which gives a good picture of 
Russian religion : 

" To sin shamelessly, with never an end. 
To lose all count of day and night, 
And, with head athrob from drunkenness. 
To pass into the House of God. 

Three times to bow down to the ground. 
Seven times to sign one's self with holy cross 
And secretly to touch with heated brow 
The soiled, bespitted floor. 

74 



The Kra of Rasputin 

And placing in the plate a copper coin, 
Three times, yea, seven times more on end. 
To kiss the ancient ikon, poor and plain 
And worn away with kissing. 

Then, returning home, to cheat 

Someone for that very coin. 

And hiccuping, to kick away 

The hungry hound from before the door. 

And underneath the ikon-lamp 

To drink tea, counting on the abacus, 

Then, opening the cupboard. 

To turn the banknotes with spittlcd thumb. 

And on the feather bed to sink 

In heavy, heavy sleep . . . 

Yes, even so, my Russia, 

Thou art dearer than all lands to me." ' 

Religion, therefore, was not a social convenience 
or moral imperative in Russia, but a well of mysti- 
cism, a sort of spiritual voluptuousness. Perhaps 
in this Russia was nearer eternal truth than we 
know. The social atmosphere, however, was obvi- 
ously full of possibilities, and it was in this great 
abyss of anarchy and impending Bolshevism that 
there emerged two of the most startling figures of 
modern history, Gregory Rasputin and Vladimir 
Lenin. The former brought no new gospel. 
His one aim was to rescue Russia from the welter 
of moral evil into which the bankrupt intelli- 
gentsia and the corrupt bureaucracy had led it. 
His creed was the old one of self-discipline, 
ascetic self-denial and the wholesomeness of personal 

' Rodina, Stikhi, 1916. 

7S 



The Blue Steppes 

virtue. As such he was a symbol of *' the Powers 
of Darkness," a relic of bygone '' superstition " 
and " mental enslavement " for which the emanci- 
pated, " scientific ", intelligentsia, proclaiming 
unfettered reason and absolute freedom from all 
the " mouldy traditions " of the dark past, had 
not only a profound contempt but a screaming, 
gesticulating hatred. To the haughty, autocratic 
aristocracy he was nothing but a moujhik, a low 
serf, and a dangerous one, for he advocated the 
strengthening of the bonds between the Orthodox 
Tsar and the pious peasantry by the creation of a 
robust element of peasant proprietors. This policy 
had already been attempted by the Minister, 
Stolypin, who had paid for it with his life. The 
infuriated land-owning nobles would not hear of a 
policy that could only be carried out at the expense 
of their land and power. Professor Ossendowski 
declares that they arranged for Stolypin's assassina- 
tion by " agents provocateurs " and that they 
dubbed him " the slayer of the nobles ".i 

Rasputin, however, carried on his campaign 
fearlessly. His efforts on behalf of Christian 
morality and asceticism, the inner discipline and 
moral strength which results from restraint and 
self-control, stank in the nostrils of the debauched 
intelligentsia, whose slogan was " Everything is 
permitted ", a slogan culled from Nietzsche. Of 
the good-living intellectuals, who, alas, were a 
dwindling company, few could face the shame of 
seeing any good in a mere moujhik. Their god 

I The Shadow of the Gloomy East. 

76 



The Kra of Rasputin 

was reason, yet they failed to realize that the col- 
lective reason of an organized society was largely 
dependent for its proper functioning on the moral 
capitalism which was preached by the uneducated 
moujhik. Never, perhaps, has almighty reason 
produced such a crop of madness and inhumanity 
as it achieved in the land where it was hoisted on the 
altar. Reason itself is not a disembodied spirit 
floating about the universe, dissolving all things. 
It is chained to the past and to circumstances. 
For the purposes of life and society it must be 
taken in hand by a restraining guide. It needs a 
moral interpreter. Either that is performed by 
man's own efforts towards a moral synthesis or it 
is imposed upon him by some tyrant. Reason 
itself is not much good unless there is some other 
power to prevent the body that bears it from 
being ravaged or murdered. 

It was when Rasputin failed that the tyrant 
Lenin came and set himself up to interpret reason 
to Russia, speaking urbi et orbi with pontifical 
authority and blasting all " unenlightened " men 
to bits with bombs and bullets, or mercilessly 
condemning them to death or ignominy in the 
halls of the Cheka. The intelligentsia cried out 
against him, but he would have no beating about 
the bush. His was the " latest dictum of science," 
the final word of that reason which they had 
applied to all things. Why hesitate, when with 
one stroke all men could be emancipated from 
their chains and the communism of reason estab- 
lished ? And if he swept away all religion and 

n 



The Blue Steppes 

'' bourgeois " morality, it was because they had 
already ceased to exist as vital forces among the 
intelligentsia and had been condemned by their 
own emancipated reason as the dead wood of 
bygone superstition and out-of-date society. The 
cry that rose from the astounded Russian intelli- 
gentsia was the cry of horror of a man who sees 
his hideous face for the first time in a revealing 
mirror. Lenin merely established as a system the 
amorality which had so long been the ruling 
power before him. Perhaps that explains his 
heartfelt contempt of all who tried to justify 
*' bourgeois " morality. But before this stage of 
development could be reached a great struggle for 
the old dying values was necessary. The intelli- 
gentsia should have realized that the final outcome 
of their negations and strivings was Bolshevism. 
It was not a sudden growth, something that sprung 
up mysteriously on the soil of Russia. They 
were breeding it themselves all the time. But 
they did not think of where their *' unfettered 
reason " would land them. (By " unfettered ", 
they usually meant lack of all moral " chains ". 
Unfettered reason and unfettered morals, if there 
is such a thing, always went together.) They 
were too happy smashing down the symbols and 
traditions of the past. For them Rasputin was 
the symbol of " benighted " Russia, the Russia of 
the religious-minded moujhik, of ignorance and 
superstition. In one sense, they were right. One 
could not witness the futility of religious obser- 
vances in Russia during their appalling decadence 

78 



The Era of Rasputin 

without wishing for something better. But the 
" enhghtenment " they had to offer led inevitably 
to Niliilisni, while, removed from its idealistic 
jargon, their only final goal was a sort of glorified 
materialism. 1 hey seemed to forget that man 
did not live by bread alone, and that what Russia 
needed was not a sweeping negation of its religion 
in the name of reason, science and the " latest 
dictum ", but a renewal of the vivifying forces 
that are common to all religion. But this they 
could not do, for they rejected even the latent 
natural religion in themselves, and had established 
orgiastic sensuality and all spiritual negation as 
their rational creed. It was not a direct outburst 
of depravity, it was born with groans and agonies, 
the fruit of unfettered reason's " enlightenment " 
against the pitch-black, all-engulfing darkness of 
eternity. Russia, perhaps, has born the cross of 
the world in her flesh more martyr-like than one 
may guess. But it was a cross of her own making 
and her martyrdom has cost the blood of millions. 
Had Russians foreseen the bloody goal and the 
terrible misery to which their " enlightenment " 
was leading them, they might have altered their 
course. But when the dissipated aristocracy slew 
the man who represented the sad, lonely movement 
for the spiritual redemption of Russia on the old 
lines of Christian strength and virtue, the intelli- 
gentsia rejoiced its loudest. Rasputin was, of 
course, merely the symbol of their personal bug- 
bears. To the nobles he was the symbol of the 
loathsome moujhik and the advocate of the peasant- 

79 



The Blue Steppes 

proprietor policy. They wanted the peasant kept 
in his place and the land policy crushed. To the 
intelligentsia he was the symbol of Orthodoxy, 
religious superstition, the strengthening of which 
meant always the strengthening of Autocracy, of 
the Orthodox Tsar. They wanted the Tsar 
removed altogether v/ith the Church that upheld 
him as " the Lord's Anointed ". Both forces 
had their way. Rasputin was removed by the 
aristocrats, and almost immediately the Tsar was 
removed by the intelligentsia. 



80 




GREGORY RASPUTIN. 



[To face p. 80. 



.^-. 



Chapter VI 

DATS AND NIGHTS 
UITH RASPUTIN 

AT MY FIRST MEETING with Gregory 
Rasputin I was not particularly attracted 
to him. He had the peasant atmosphere 
externally, which is quite pleasant and interesting 
in its proper place, but seemed at first rather 
revolting in the vicinity of royalty. Moreover, 
he was a rugged fellow, huge and horselike, and 
it certainly gave no satisfaction to one's aesthetic 
sense to look at him with his oily long hair and 
black beard, coarse, bulging Epstein lips and 
horsy hands. But this ruggedness had a peculiar 
charm, an appeal, not to one's refining sense of 
beauty but to the more primitive, grosser sense 
of forcefulness, such as one experiences at the 
sight of a fine massive cart-horse after viewing the 
Derby winner. But it was not this coarseness 
that took him to the Court, though it had invaded 
almost every sphere of Russia. It was only after 
I had entered into more intimate relations with 
him and his entourage that I began to realize 
what an extraordinary. Viking type of man he was. 
F 8i 



The Blue Steppes 

Moreover, one could never forget that the most 
dreadful depravity was attributed to him. Being 
the friend of so many of his friends and admirers 
and knowing the integrity and genuine piety of 
their lives, I owed it to them not to give too easy 
credence to the villainous stories that reached my 
ears, for they, too, by implication were alleged to 
be his accomplices. In writing of this heinous 
campaign against Rasputin, Madame Vyroubova, 
the Tsarina's friend, attributes it to " the strangely 
abnormal and hysterical mentality of the Russian 
people at that epoch . . . the madness and con- 
fusion of the Russian mind. That this madness, 
this unreasoning mania for the destruction of all 
institutions might have something to justify itself 
in the public mind, it was absolutely necessary to 
find and persecute individuals who typified, in 
popular imagination, the things which were so 
bitterly hated. Rasputin, more than any other 
individual in the Empire, did typify old and 
unpopular institutions ". As a religious supporter 
of Autocracy, he was hated by the Westernising 
intelligentsia, as a peasant he was loathed by 
the arrogant nobles, and as the advocate of asceti- 
cism and the discipline of the body, he was 
abhorred by both, whose gospel was sex anarchy 
and debauch. He advocated self-control for the 
strengthening of body and mind and the develop- 
ment of the soul, while his foes were already vowed 
to riotous living, birth-control and debauch for 
debauch's sake, as " the latest stage of emancipa- 
tion and evolution ", " progress ". Having seen 
82 



Days and Nights with Rasputin 

and heard so much dismissed and abolished as 
" prejudice ", " superstition ", *' out-of-date ", 
one sometimes wonders where "progress" is likely 
to lead to. Rasputin, moujhik though he was, 
had something of the penetrating vision of an 
Old Testament prophet. He had the same keen 
sense of the connection between the moral health 
and the social life of the nation. He stood for the 
binding force of religious discipline against the 
dissolving influence of too much pseudo-science. 
All of which is an old story and might have been 
told by any dear country curate over a cup of 
tea. But the difference lies in the fact that it was 
told by Rasputin, in Russia, and in his own peculiar 
manner. And the end of his story was the down- 
fall of the State and the confirmation of all the 
evil he had predicted. 

A short while after my introduction to Rasputin, 
he sent me his photograph, taken as he stood 
beside the monument which M. Arendsen, a 
Danish sculptor, was executing to the memory of 
Alexander III. When I next saw him at the house 
of Countess Ignaieff, in Tsarkoe Selo, I begged 
him to sign it and write an inscription. At the 
top of the photograph he wrote the cryptic words : 
" Vy tam, my zdies " (you there, we here). I 
couldn't make out what this stood for. I realized 
my my siicA Jl aire was rather off-scent, so I begged 
him to be a litde more explicit. He looked at 
me good-humouredly and shook his head. " A 
faithful hound goes not twice round the yard 
to find his master's entrance," he said, in that 

83 



The Blue Steppes 

slow, deep, velvet-toned voice of his. Whether 
he meant that it was a simple matter or that I was 
dull of wit I don't know. He took the pen up 
once more and wrote at the bottom of the photo- 
graph : " You pray there, we pray here." Then 
I realized that he was depicted at the tomb of the 
Emperor and that he was referring to the souls of 
the faithful departed, and their communion in 
prayer with the faithful on earth. He was fond of 
dwelling on the need for prayer and thanksgiving, 
which put people into a mystical communion 
with the spirits of the other world. On Sundays 
after Mass he would usually meet people in the 
house of some aristocratic admirer and talk to 
them. I remember hearing him in the drawing- 
room of Countess Ignaieff one Sunday. The 
chairs were all in their dust-hustings as was the 
custom except on high feast days, while the floor 
was bare, so there was not that creature comfort 
so conspicuous in English drawing-rooms. There, 
everyone, even Countess Heyder, who had taken 
her degree in philosophy, listened to his caressing, 
forceful voice with rapt attention. It is impossible 
for me to convey an adequate idea of the richness 
of his voice, its manly pathos, its melodious and 
exquisitely shaded intonations, its slow, poetic 
rhythm. For that, one must know what it is to 
hear a good Russian peasant, for it is recognized 
even by Russian writers that the Russian peasant 
in his native simplicity speaks perfect, fascinating 
Russian. Whereas the English or Scotch yokel 
speaks a jarring dialect, most Russian peasants 

84 



Days and Nights with Kasputin 

speak purest Russian in an accent that is clean 
and melodious. 

Rasputin declared : " To praise God, seeking 
nothing, like the bird singing on the green branch, 
that is the great affair for the Christian soul. 
Why does the bird build its nest, feed itself and its 
young, live its short life ? Only that it may sing, 
because its song is a praise to God. It does not 
ask itself about life or death. It lives, praising 
God with its song in its bird's soul. Man must 
live to praise God. Life is not to eat, to drink, 
to dress in fine clothes. Life is to praise God, 
asking for nothing, giving all." 

He thought that man should praise God by 
developing all that was best in himself. Young 
people should exercise their bodies to make them 
beautiful. " God loves a beautiful pilgrim," was 
his favourite saying. People should train their 
voices, to make them lovely so that they might 
praise God and God might be proud of them. 
If they fell in love, it was that they might give 
children to God and keep up the glory of God 
on earth. They should watch over and tend 
everything beautiful in their souls, their bodies, 
develop their talents and make the world more 
wonderful. But they should always be on their 
guard against pride and the devil. They must 
discipline their bodies, so that their spirit might 
sing to God. It did not matter if they had been 
wrong-doers before. He himself in his young 
days had been led astray by the evil one, and 
he was still knov/n as " Rasputin " (the wayward). 

8s 



The Blue Steppes 

He still kept the nickname for humility and to 
praise God for his coming to the knowledge of 
divine love. The rebellion of the flesh was the 
cause of all the evil in the world. It scarred the 
face of the earth. It was the plague of mankind, 
because it took all for itself, hoping to possess, 
whereas it grasped only the shadow of a spectre. 
If one praised God, one gave all, keeping nothing 
for one's self, thinking not of one's self. But God 
was pleased with this and enriched the poor giver. 

I had the temerity to ask him some time after 
whether he thought a crow might give praise with 
its hideous cawing. He looked at me quite 
solemnly, laid his large hand on my sleeve, and 
said, shaking his head : " That, my friend, is not 
a bird of God. The crow is like the owl, a bird 
of ill-tidings (zlovyestchaya). Such birds will 
not be in the Kingdom of God." 

One of the most surprising things I saw was 
when an old woman, bedridden with rheumatism 
for years, was brought to him at his house on the 
Gorokhovaya. It was with difficulty that she 
was brought in on a stretcher and placed in the 
middle of the crowded room. Rasputin had been 
having tea with his guests and was not prepared 
for the woman. She must have bribed her way in. 
When they brought the woman into the room, he 
rose and laid his hands on her wrinkled brow. 

" Pray to Saint Xenia," he said, somewhat 
harshly. 

The old woman's eyes welled up with tears. 
She held up her twisted hands. 
86 



Days and Nights rcith Rasputin 

*' I prayed," she stammered, her voice broken 
with despair. " As a pilgrim I went. To the 
monastery at Kiev I went. To the saints I prayed. 
Nothing. Still I drag on this miserable life. 
Help, batiushka ! help an unfortunate one ! " 

Rasputin, who had turned away, embarrassed, 
and was asking who had brought the woman in, 
suddenly swept away his seeming indifference, 
and taking the disfigured woman in his powerful 
arms, raised her up and kissed her brow. 

For a moment she groaned with pain at the 
sudden movement, then seizing the cross which 
hung on a chain on Rasputin's breast, pressed it 
passionately to her lips. 

*' Glory to Thee, Lord, glory to Thee ! Help, 
Merciful One, help ! " she cried out. 

Rasputin kissed her brow again and lifted her 
up from the stretcher. She clung to his strength 
grimly, kissing the cross and calling out for mercy. 
When he set her down, she surprised the whole 
company by standing on her feet. It was the 
first time she had been able to do so for twenty 
years or so. She was shaky, it is true, but she 
managed to walk across the room and kiss the 
ikon in the corner. Naturally, the joy and exulta- 
tion that pervaded the company was unforgettable. 
Tears were shed abundantly and women sunk on 
to their knees in thanksgiving. The atmosphere 
was most electric. I was myself so stirred that 
I could hardly keep from either weeping or throb- 
bing like the rest. 

He always exercised a strange influence over 

87 



The Blue Steppes 

the sick and was able to cure many In a way that 
was said to be miraculous. The only instance I 
knew personally was the one I have just described, 
though in that case the great emotionalism of the 
woman and the surrounding atmosphere must have 
helped considerably. 

For certain aspects of Rasputin I had the same 
experience as Madame Vyroubova, who writes : 
" I do not know whether or not in Western 
countries religion produces in the neurotic and 
shallow-minded a kind of emotional excitement 
which they mistake for faith, but in Russia there 
was a time when this was so. For the most part, 
however, it was really serious people, men and 
women, who went in after Mass to listen to the 
discourses of Rasputin. He was, as I have said, 
an unlettered man, but he knew the Scriptures, 
and his interpretations were so keen and so original 
that highly-educated people, even learned church- 
men, liked to listen to them. In matters of faith 
and doctrine he could never be confused or con- 
founded. Moreover, his sympathy and his charity 
were so wide and tender that he attracted women 
of narrow lives whose small troubles might have 
been dismissed as trivial by ordinary confessors. 
For example, many lovelorn women (men too) 
used to go to those morning meetings to beg his 
prayers on their heart's behalf. He knew that 
unsatisfied love is a very real trouble and he was 
always gentle and patient with such people, that 
is, if their souls were innocent. For irregular 
love affairs he had no patience whatever." 
88 



Days and Nights with Rasputin 

I have said that Rasputin was a saint in so far 
as he, a poor man, stood alone in Russia in not 
accepting bribes. Madame Vyroubova holds 
similar views : *' This indifference to money on 
the part of Rasputin was all the more conspi- 
cuous in a country where almost every hand was 
stretched out for reward, graft, or blackmail." 
Regarding the wild tales about him, she says : 
" I heard, I suppose, every wild tale that was told 
of him. But no one ever presented to the Imperial 
Family or to myself any evidence, any facts in 
support of these accusations." 

And such was my own experience, too. When 
it became bruited that Rasputin had been thrown 
out of the Yar restaurant in Moscow, I went with 
a young Russian friend to get the details of the 
disgraceful scene on the spot. To my relief no 
one at the restaurant knew anything about the 
matter at all. My friend and I had an expensive 
meal there and when we gave the waiter a hand- 
some tip, he became loquacious. 

" The devil knows who comes here," he said. 
*' Rasputin or any other, it is all the same to us. 
Here we get all sorts of phizzes, red, white, black 
and green. But Rasputin, that's yerunda ! (bun- 
kum). No Rasputin here 1 There was a row 
the other night, as you mention. That was a 
quarrel between two officers. One of them offered 
a diamond ring to the other officer's wife, or the 
woman he was with. She was indignant and felt 
insulted. They had a terrible rumpus. Swore 
at each other, shouted, and one of them threw a 

89 



The Blue Steppes 

champagne bottle at the other and overturned the 
dinner table, together with the plates and glasses. 
The uproar ! The gorodovoys came in and threw 
the man out. That's all. Of Rasputin, no w^ord 
even ! " 

I felt very happy, because Rasputin was reported 
to have made such impossible remarks about the 
Empress that I could not feel at rest until I had 
investigated the report on the spot. It was a 
malicious tale, but alas, only one of the hundreds 
that were poured out every day by the diseased, 
fevered brains of the disloyal degenerates. 

The President of the Czecho-slovak Republic, 
Dr. Massryk, who knew Russia well, also declared 
that " The nobility reeked of the moral and poli- 
tical degradation that surrounded the Court. They 
were against Rasputin not for moral or religious 
reasons, but for reasons of caste. . . . Russia was 
fated to fall and to fall through her own inner 
falsehood. . . . Perhaps the chief blame lies with 
the Russian Church and its failure to give the 
people moral education." 

And this was because religion in Russia had 
little to do with morality. So that, even if Rasputin 
had committed moral depravities, he would not 
on that account have suffered any diminution in 
the eyes of Russia. The immorality that was 
attributed to him so furiously meant little as such 
to a people who cared nothing for morals. It 
was the deliberate linking of his name with the 
occupants of the throne and their family that 
counted. It had no other purpose than to destroy 
90 



Days and Nights "with Rasputin 

the prestige of Nicholas II. The campaign of 
cakininy was fostered by the Grand Ducal cabal 
for their own interests and schemes, and by the 
revolutionary intelligentsia for the overthrow of 
Autocracy altogether. 

Rasputin knew that men were after his blood. 
He had already been stabbed by a mad woman 
when I met him. One day, in the spring of 
19 1 6, I met Rasputin on the steps of St. Isaac's 
cathedral. He asked me to come and have tea 
with him the following day, but I told him that 
I was leaving early the next morning for a little 
trip to the wild shores of Lake Ladoga. I had a 
young Russian student friend who was fond of 
going to wild spots and living in a sort of backwood 
fashion. Rasputin smiled at the idea, declaring 
that he often longed to go back to his far-off home 
in Siberia and the odours of the spring in the vast 
forests. He wanted to come with us. At first I 
thought that he was just expressing a fleeting 
fancy, but he insisted that he was in earnest. 

It was rather embarrassing for me, as Serge, my 
friend, was deep in the mire of revolutionary 
intrigues common to students at the university, 
and would be sure to treat Rasputin with lashing 
contempt and studied insult, which, I regret to 
admit, were very prevalent even among the highest 
circles owing to the terrible looseness of Russians 
tongues and their inborn incapacity to control 
their lust for talking and expressing their feelings 
uphill and down dale. 

I rang up Rasputin and told him that if he 

91 



The Blue Steppes 

cared to go he must make his way there alone, 
as I was going with a friend who did not wish to 
have a third companion. Perhaps he would join 
us as a chance acquaintance. We were going to 
Olonetz on the shores of the lake and from there 
to a tiny hamlet about five versts northward, 
where Serge kept a small yacht. I told him 
Serge's name, so that he could be directed. 

I thought I should hear no more of his sudden 
desire to join us. It was just a flash in the pan. 
About nine o'clock next evening, after a day spent 
in yachting on the lake and shooting in the thick 
forests, we moored the boat to the trunk of a 
tree and started to make a camp fire with which 
to roast the wild duck we had shot. We were 
far from human habitations, alone on the ridge of 
the slumbering forest, listening to the rapping of 
the woodpeckers, the cries of woodcocks, snipes, 
glukhari and other game and enjoying the enchant- 
ing stillness of the beautiful white night. It 
would never get dark. The white light would go 
on till the sun rose soon after midnight to set the 
forest afire with its flaming hues and suffuse its 
laughing warmth through the gleaming pallor of 
the lake. 

Serge was tinkering the sails of the tiny yacht, 
while I was looking after the odorous, sizzling 
duck over the wood fire, when we were startled by 
the splash of oars and the loud, echoing voice of a 
peasant. 

" Hoi, brothers ! Like worms in the wood you 
hid yourselves. Glory to God ! We have found 
92 



Days and Nights with Rasputin 

them at last ! Ekh ! thou, Uttle brother ! We 
shall drink a merry Uttle glass for this ! " 

The forest resounded with the peasant's fat 
laughter. As the boat drew nearer we were sur- 
prised to see Rasputin sitting in the stern. He 
waved his hand when he saw me and boomed out 
his familiar " Peace to the servants of God ! " 

He stepped out of the boat and held out his 
large hand. " So we have come, little brother, 
to breathe with a full breast and listen to the secret 
voices," he said. " Here is the palace of the 
eternal, invisible God. Here all is quiet, bright, 
clean ; a godly refreshment." 

Serge was muttering something unpleasant, but 
I took him in hand at once and told him in French 
that if he didn't make himself agreeable to Rasputin 
I would go back to the city at once. He subsided 
fairly willingly, for I had already impressed upon 
him once before that I preferred to remove my 
presence from that of unpleasant people if they 
were not prepared to remove themselves or reform. 
There is nothing that surprises Russians so 
much as this capacity to forego a man's company 
rather than put up with his unnecessary deficiencies 
and ill-humours. On that account they usually 
called one " unsympathetic ", " hard-hearted ", 
" wooden ", etc. But in the long run they knew 
what to expect and behaved themselves accordingly. 

Rasputin shared the roast duck and the tea 
we brewed with water from the lake. He chatted 
a long while about the Empress, the Tsarevich, 
the ladies of the Court and mutual acquaintances. 

93 



The Blue Steppes 

He wanted to go down to the front to be near 
the men who were fighting for holy Russia, but 
he was distressed to know that his enemies were 
very strong there and put every obstacle in the 
way of his visiting the peasant soldiers. 

He related so well his various journeys to the 
famous monasteries of Russia and had such a 
genuine tone of sincerity and a wealth of sympathy, 
that the sullen Serge recovered from his prejudices 
and took the man to his heart. Afterwards he 
said to me : " Such a moujhik is a rarity. One 
ought to have a blank gramophone record always 
behind him. It's a pity he isn't ordained. If 
he had a hermit's cell (kelya), all Russia would 
flock to him." 

We rolled ourselves up in our blankets and gave 
a rug to Rasputin. He did not care to sleep at 
once. The white night was so clear and light 
that he preferred to walk about the shore of the 
lake. 

Tired out, I soon dropped off to sleep. I was 
wakened some time later by the sound of singing. 
Looking round, I saw the figure of Rasputin 
standing dark against the shimmering surface of 
the vast lake. The white night was already melt- 
ing into the glow of sunrise, the far waters beyond 
the shadow of the forest seeming to rise into the 
air on shining wings. White flashes of sheet 
lightning darted across the horizon like the rhyth- 
mic sweep of a giant wing. The tree-tops swayed 
in the light breeze with a lulling rustle, while the 
cries of the awakening wild fowl resounded in 

94 



Days and Nights with Rasputin 

the hollow depths of the mossy, waylcss forest. 
In this choir of nature, the voice of the Staretz, 
singing some melodious, half-melancholy hymn or 
psalm of old Slavonic, rose and fell like the wave 
of sound from a deep-toned bell. Somehow it 
struck me that I was listening to a wonderful old 
prophet of the desert singing his lamentations 
over the waters of Babylon. I listened attentively 
and concluded that he was singing the Lamenta- 
tions of Jeremiah, whose voice of threatening 
prophecy he was fond of making his ow^n. 

I had heard so many Jeremiahs in my lifetime, 
that I paid no special heed to that part of his 
mission, though I knew his condemnation of the 
iniquities of his countrymen was only too well 
founded. Only when Russia lay prostrate, its 
Tsar murdered, its people slain in millions by 
the Bolshevists, and Petrograd w^as emptied of its 
dwellers and had become a waste place, did the 
full force and truth of this unlettered man's mission 
and prophecy come home to me. " While I am 
alive, the throne is safe," had been his constant 

plea. 

. • • • • 

When I came to England in December 191 6, 
just before his assassination, I tried to put his 
cause before the British pubUc, but not one news- 
paper would give me space, nor would any public 
servant listen to my version of Rasputin's real 
role. Most, alas, were convinced that Rasputin 
was a dangerous person and that it would help 
the cause of the Allies if he was forcibly removed. 

95 



The Blue Steppes 

It was my previous knowledge of these views 
which caused me to listen with much interest to 
the opinion of many people in Russia after the 
revolution that it had been brought about with 
the connivance of a well-known diplomat and the 
Allies. If that is so, then the assassination of 
Rasputin at the house of Prince Felix Yusoopoff 
must have had the previous approval of the Allied 
politicians. The work was the result of the Grand 
Ducal cabal, and it is common knowledge that 
they arranged a good part of their plotting with 
the blessing of the Allied politicians, presumably 
for the better continuation of the war and the 
avoidance of a separate peace, rumours of which 
had been so long current in Russia. Rasputin 
never urged a separate peace, but always insisted 
that Germany should not be made to overthrow 
her own autocracy. 

When I returned to England, after the Soviet 
reign of terror, almost my first step was to try 
once more to enlighten the British public about 
my murdered friend. Every ear seemed closed, 
but I succeeded in publishing a very short account 
of my views and knowledge of Rasputin in yohn 
o' London^ under the title, " Rasputin as I Knew 
Him ". Even then I had to conform to a certain 
apologizing exordium at the request of the editor. 

Whatever Rasputin was, he was a true lover 
of his country, his Tsar and his religion, the three 
things which " emancipated " Russia had affected 
to despise. Of the dark things attributed to him 
I have no personal knowledge and have never 

96 



Days and Nights with Rasputin 

met anyone who has. In any case there was no 
one among the debauched intelligentsia who could 
throw the first stone. And having enjoyed his 
society pretty often, though holding my own 
views of the ways and means peculiar to Russian 
religious life, I give him the full benefit of the 
doubt and call him with his admirers, a martyr. 



97 



Chapter VII 

THE HOUSE IN 

THE HORSEGUARDS' ALLEY 

I 

BY THOSE MYSTERIOUS HANDS that 
weave our fortunes I was fated to enter 
the house in the Horseguards' Alley in 
Petrograd. It had nothing unusual in its outward 
look except a large square window overhanging 
the carriage archway. That, in itself, was nothing 
startling. It merely jutted out like a large glass 
eye in the flat surface of the long line of unpre- 
tentious mansions. As one turned the corner of 
the Horseguards' Avenue and looked down the 
alley, it winked at one with the gleam of daylight 
in its broad panes. On coming nearer, every 
passer-by looked up at it with wonder. From 
either side one saw the hairy form of a grinning 
monkey hunching about on his perch or swinging 
from a bright ring attached to the centre of the 
ceiling. 

When I first saw it, in 191 5, grinning at me 
with its hideous row of white teeth and red gums, 
it wore a white ruffle and a yellow satin jacket 
adorned with a black coronet. It was swinging 

98 



The House in the Horseguards* Alley 

on the golden ring, its lower anatomy looking 
like a blue balloon. Next time I passed the 
v^■indovv I was surprised to see the monkey in a 
red frill and a green satin jacket with a red coronet. 
Moreover, it was seated on the shoulder of an 
extremely beautiful woman, fondling her white 
neck and playing with the rich, dark tresses that 
hung loose down her back. It was already mid- 
day, but the beautiful woman was still clad in 
a yellow, bird-embroidered kimono, having 
evidently just come out of her morning bath. 
Late-rising was a common habit among the ladies 
of Petrograd owing to their fondness for night 
life. I found the woman so royally beautiful — 
she seemed to have stepped out of a Rubens 
picture — that the house w^hich I had first 
distinguished as the house with the winking 
window, and then the house with the grinning 
monkey, became at last the house with the Rubens 
beauty. I wanted to know more about her. 

Luckily it did not take me long to find out. 
Her next-door neighbour was Count Fredericks, 
the aged, afi^able Minister of the Imperial Court. 
He was interested in some translations I had made 
from Pushkin, Lermontov, and other Russian 
poets, and had invited me to lunch. We were 
just a few at table, including M. Derfeiden, a 
young officer whose sister danced at the palace of 
Prince Yusoopov on the night of Rasputin's 
murder, and Count Kleinmichel, a man I had 
known in Kharkov. 

In his rather sombre dining-room, with its 

99 



The Blue Steppes 

dull pictures of still life on the panelled walls and 
an old English clock whose crazy chimes went 
off every ten minutes, Count Fredericks enter- 
tained his guests with tasty riabchiks and still 
tastier talk about the Court. He was a man 
of the old school (his delightfully undulous 
moustaches advertised the fact) and strongly 
disapproved of the mysticism that had invaded 
the Imperial family. Intensely German in feelings 
and outlook, he detested the presence of Rasputin 
at the Court, though his stern sense of duty and 
honour forbade him to give credence to the lurid 
tales which were everywhere in circulation. He 
confined himself to the ordinary small talk of the 
Court camarilla, relating trivial, harmless incidents 
about Madame Vyroubova and the Empress's ladies- 
in-waiting, their mutual antagonisms and feline 
sallies, about Rasputin's prophecies and visions, 
and what certain irate grand dukes had sworn to 
do in order to get rid of the pious peasant. 

In the midst of such a stream of interesting 
talk, it was no easy task for me to lead up to the 
subject of the beautiful neighbour. It was not 
until the conversation had veered round to the 
gruesome subject of Princess Dolgorouki's skeleton 
that I found the chance good for a general dis- 
cussion of the drawing-room hobbies of the Russian 
aristocracy. I remembered entering the drawing- 
room of Princess Dolgorouki's house on the 
English Quay and being startled by a human 
skeleton standing up stark and ghastly just behind 
the gilt screen by the door. It was the first thing 
loo 




COUNT FREDERICKS, MINISTER OF THE IMPERIAL COURT. 

[To lace p. loo. 



The House In the Horse guards* Alley 

that struck one's gaze before one advanced to greet 
its beautiful and gifted owner. 

Count Fredericks, though bordering on the 
eighties, could still twinkle a merry eye, carry 
his wine like a soldier, and turn a tale with the 
art of a past-master. A few days previously, it 
appeared, he had assisted the Emperor in distri- 
buting some w^ar medals for deeds of valour. 
There had been a great concourse of drums and 
trumpets and several staff officers, heady with 
pride of position and the cut of their trousers, 
had received the Cross of St. George. Among 
them was a young Count Elston, whose elegance 
and arrogance matched his careful avoidance of 
danger in the trenches and his contempt for all 
risks on the matrimonial front. He had already, 
at the age of twenty-five, cheated three fellow- 
officers of their wives and married them one after 
the other. As the law permitted no more than 
three divorces, he was now obliged to win laurels 
on the military front instead of winning other 
men's wives, a practice that was almost universal 
amongst the educated classes of Russia. So he 
applied in the usual indirect manner through an 
uncle for the medal of St. George. Having got 
it, he asked for leave to return to Petrograd so 
that he might display his new glory. On the 
night of his arrival, he went to a large party given 
at Princess Dolgorouki's house. His pride and 
arrogance knew no bounds. His loud voice and 
jingling spurs kept everyone aware of him. During 
the evening he had occasion to go out to the 

lOI 



The Blue Steppes 

cloakroom. His jingling spurs were heard retreat- 
ing down the corridor. Suddenly a terrible shriek 
rent the atmosphere. Footmen and visitors rushed 
forward and discovered the haughty count lying 
v^diite and prostrate on the floor. Before him 
stood the open door of a cupboard, in the dark 
hole of which shone the white skeleton of a man. 

They brought him to with a Httle cold water. 
It was then explained that Princess Dolgorouki 
had decided to do away with the skeleton as an 
ornament of her drawing-room and had stowed 
it away in the cupboard near the cloakroom. 
The valorous count, wearing his shining new 
order, had opened the wrong door by mistake. 

When Count Fredericks had finished relating 
this story, I found it opportune to ask who was 
the beautiful neighbour whose chief window adorn- 
ment seemed to be a grinning monkey. 

Count Fredericks burst into a merry chuckle. 
An old man's chuckle has the flavour of old 
vintage. He Hfted both his hands and drew out 
his long moustaches with gentle caressings. 

*' Here's a fine young fellow ! " he exclaimed. 
*' One eye on the poets and the other on the 
beauties of the natural creation. Taste . . . ex- 
quisite, as you see, gentlemen. When I was 
young and handsome, I was just as keen. And if 
in those days I had seen such a beauty as one 
sees every morning in the overhanging window 
next door, fondling that monstrous monkey, I 
should have known my career. Well, Fm not too 
old to take an interest in her even now. One 

I02 



The House in the Horseguards^ Alley 

can't live long next door to a monkey and a 
beauty without wanting to know a litde of their 
history. I can tell you, gendemen, that I soon 
took steps to find out." 

** Who is she ? " the men asked eagerly. " A 
demi-mondaine ? " 

Count Fredericks held up his hands and waved 
them downwards as though to allay such unsetding 
thoughts. 

" By no means ! " he declared. " A most 
respectable woman, daughter of a merchant, 
honorary citizen of the town of St. Petersburg. 
(He always spoke of the town by its historic name.) 
She was married at nineteen to a penniless man 
in the Foreign Office, divorced him a few years 
later and took up nursing when the war broke out. 
Then she made the acquaintance of Vadimsky, 
the proprietor of the Petrograd Chronicle^ who 
was on his last legs with consumption. She nursed 
him devotedly till he died after making her his 
wife and leaving her a tremendous fortune. His 
newspaper sold like hot cakes since the outbreak 
of war. Since his death she still runs the hospital 
for wounded soldiers which he had opened on 
the top floor of the house and where she first 
entered his life as a war-nurse. He died about 
three months ago. About a month later she 
installed the monkey and by way of consolation 
sews new coats and frills for it every day. But 
there are other developments on the way. Now 
that she has inherited the Vadimsky fortune, she 
has a host of suitors, some of them with coronets. 

103 



The Blue Steppes 

She turns them all away with a weary sigh and 
embroiders a new coronet on the monkey's coat for 
each noble offer she declines." 

" Is she satisfied with her bourgeois station ? " 
Count Kleinmichel asked. 

Count Fredericks chuckled in the manner fami- 
liar to those who knew him. He never looked 
upon courtly gravity as being anything more than 
a part of court dress. He always seemed to 
thank God for laughter. 

"Is any woman satisfied with her station ? " 
he asked. " Was Eve ? We can wait and watch. 
It isn't because there's no apple on the tree. In 
fact there are too many. But most of them are 
far too small. Madame Vadimsky declares she 
will only marry for love. Very well ! a lovely 
ideal ! But some people say the Grand Duke 
S has set his eye at the lovely idealist. Mar- 
riage would be rather a difficulty. The Grand 
Duke would have to live abroad if he married 
her. Gossips hint that the Grand Duke has too 
much ambition at home to risk life with love 
abroad. But, as I said before, Madame Vadimsky 
is a most respectable woman. She is testing the 
depth of the Grand Duke's love before she comes 
to a decision." 

II 

A few days later I had occasion to visit the 
Prince of Oldenburg, who was connected with the 
Red Cross. While waiting in the ante-chamber 
of the large mansion next to the British Embassy, 
104 



The House in the Horseguards* Alley 

I was engaged in conversation with one of the 
secretaries. Though he wore an officer's brown 
uniform and sundry ribbons, he was so puny that 
he seemed little more than an appendage to his 
ferocious black beard. His conversation and 
manner, however, were pleasant. As Count de 
Luze, his name was already familiar to me, several 
remarkable monuments having been erected by his 
father. 

It never struck me at the time that he could 
have any connection with the house in the Horse- 
guards' Alley. But the world is very narrow and 
life is full of surprises. He had taken a kind 
interest in my efforts to be useful in Russia during 
the war. I had been rejected for the army on 
account of my sight, but was able to make use of 
my knowledge of European languages, including 
Russian. My appeals to the British Embassy and 
the British War Office had all led to the receipt 
of the usual printed form of regrets. So in despair 
I had turned once more to the Russians. I was 
given some work interpreting and translating for 
prisoners of war. Count de Luze immediately 
inquired where I was going to put up in Petro- 
grad. When I told him that I would like to find 
a small flat, he told me of a very nice one at the 
rear of a house he visited in the Horseguards' 
Alley. It was very convenient and belonged to a 
most charming woman. 

" Does she keep a monkey ? " I asked, thinking 
of the only woman I had noticed in the houses of 
the alley. 

105 



The Blue Steppes 

" She does so," he replied. " I suppose you've 
seen it in the window. I'll ring up and find out 
whether she can see you." 

A short while after I was in the room with the 
grinning monkey, talking to its beautiful mistress. 

In spite of her stateliness and perfection of 
mould, she carried with her an atmosphere of 
weariness. Almost every sentence she pronounced 
was followed by the fall of her breast and a faint 
sigh. When she came back from showing me 
the charms of Petrushka, the monkey, she leant 
her form against the queue of the grand piano 
and with a dreamy look in her large, dark eyes 
told me that life was a grey illusion we should 
learn to embroider with love. I saw on a chair 
near by the grey satin coat she had just been 
embroidering with a coronet for the monkey. 

With her arms resting along the lid of the piano, 
she discoursed wearily on life in a voice that had a 
soft accent of sadness. She asked me whether 
the English knew what *' toska " i was, and the 
red rose she wore in her opulent bosom shed its 
petals on to the piano at her sigh. 

I feared to suggest that it could be cured with 
fresh air and exercise, for so many Russians hug 
their weariness of life as though it were a peculiar 
richness of soul. Moreover, I began to fear the 
dreamy look in the beautiful woman's eyes. Some- 
how I got out of my embarrassment by insinuating 
that I would like to see the flat. 

She kindly offered to show it to me herself 

I Weariness. 

io6 



The House in the Horse guards^ Alley 

and led mc down winding corridors till we appeared 
before windows overlooking the courtyard. The 
flat was well furnished and bright, with a separate 
entrance leading down into the courtyard. 

Having described its charms to me, Madame 
Vadimsky sank down on to the huge divan with 
a sigh. 

" I hope you will come and live here," she 
said. " I am sure we shall be great friends. It 
is quite like a separate dwelling, but the corridor 
I brought you through is always an open invitation 
for you to visit me whenever you please. You 
will come, won't you ? " 

Her eagerness rather startled mc, but she quickly 
went on to explain. 

" I live in this enormous house with my un- 
married sister and a young son by my first husband. 
There is a hospital on the top floor, but nursing 
and the officers have become so tiresome. I just 
leave it to the care of the paid nurses. The 
ground floor I have let to my sister. She is also 
a widow, but soon she will marry the doctor who 
attends the wounded upstairs. I want you very 
much to take this flat. You will do me a great 
service. I don't wish to let it really. It is con- 
venient for putting up relations. But there is one 
relation of my late husband w^ho would give half 
his fortune to get a foot in the house. Perhaps I 
may tell you more about it later on. There are 
complications since my husband died. It you 
come, you will prevent a misfortune. You will 
not want to stay on permanendy, but we can be 

107 



The Blue Steppes 

quite friendly, as though you were my guest and 
I was doing a patriotic turn to an Englishman 
in Russia during the war." 

She sighed deeply. A little while later I agreed 
to make the flat my temporary abode. 

When I arrived next day with my luggage, I 
found a bunch of exquisite white chrysanthemums 
in a vase on the writing-table. A bottle of eau- 
de-cologne and boxes of expensive French powders 
stood on the dressing-table. A heap of French 
books lay on the small table by the side of the 
bed. There was that Huysman's horror, La-bas^ 
together with the Queen of Navarre's literary 
productions and a fearful book dealing with Giles 
de Rais and the terrors of the Middle Ages, 

It was somehow forced upon me that all this 
mound of horror was French, and I wondered 
why it was that the splendid Gallic nation should 
seem to provide the world with so much frightful- 
ness. As I turned the books over, I thought of 
Carducci's poem : 

" Una bieca druidica visione 
Su gli spirit! cala e li tormenta. 
Da le torri papali d'Avignone 
Turbine di furor torbido venta." 

What connection with the Celtic ferocity lurking 
in the blood of France had Madame Vadimsky ? 
Her spirit seemed to me too tired to find even a 
stir at the druidic horrors that rose from time to 
time in France. The house in the Horseguards' 
Alley became yet more mysterious to me since I 
came under its roof. With such lavish provision 
io8 



The Mouse in the Horseguards' Alley 

for my physical beauty and the adornment of my 
soul, I really began to wonder where on earth I 
was going to. Had I entered the wrong house ? 

Feeling somewhat disquietened, I looked out of 
the window into the courtyard. Some men were 
busy stacking wood for the winter. From a large 
door next the open garage came the mooing of a 
cow. The windows on all sides of this mansion 
courtyard were neat and tranquil. Pigeons were 
billing and cooing on the sills, while from some- 
where in the lower flat came the sound of Schu- 
mann's " Carnival " played on a piano. A few 
moments later I saw the car of Count de Luze 
being parked by the chauffeur. I concluded that 
the Count had just arrived. Wishing to have a 
chat with him, I went along the corridor and 
entered Madame Vadimsky's apartment. Just 
before I got to the entrance hall, I heard a voice 
and stopped for a moment, thinking visitors might 
be arriving. I looked into the hall and saw Count 
de Lyuze on his knees before the bathroom door. 
He was carrying on a sort of verbal serenade while 
Madame Vadimsky took her morning bath. 

" My sunlit one ! " I heard him orate in a 
clear, well-modulated, rather emotional voice. 
" Whatever happens, whatever you choose to do, 
my one great joy is to throw myself down at 
your feet. I am yours for ever. Nothing gleams 
to me in life except to kneel at your feet and hold 
your hand." 

At this I discreetly fled whence I had come, 
taking with me the ineffaceable picture of the 

109 



The Blue Steppes 

little, black-bearded man kneeling at the bathroom 
door. The house seemed to me more mysterious 
than ever. 

On my way back, I ran into Onofry, one of 
the menservants. I had already rewarded him 
well for looking after my belongings, so he was 
anxiously communicative. 

" To-day," he said, *' we are all greatly excited. 
A message has arrived that the Grand Duke 

S will call on Madame after lunch. Count 

de Luze got to know, so he has arrived to forestall 
the Grand Duke. They are both madly in love 
with Madame. Everybody is." 

Ill 

I was not at home when the Grand Duke 
arrived. That his visit was in some way a success 
was revealed to me when I came home by the 
excited atmosphere which filled the whole house. 
Madame Vadimsky seemed to have cheered up 
considerably, her eyes, usually so love-lorn, spark- 
ling with a new interest. So great must have been 

the excitement which the Grand Duke S had 

stirred in her weary bosom that she came herself 
to my flat to break the news. The Grand Duke 
had invited her to dinner at the Bear Restaurant. 
He would have liked to take her to the Marine 
Opera House before going to the restaurant, but 
it would be inconvenient for the present to give 
people occasion to talk. 

I dared not ask whether the long expected 
I lo 



The House in the Horsegimrds' Alley 

proposal of marriage and flight abroad had taken 
place. I was not supposed to know anything of 
Count Fredericks's gossip. But I realized that 
some step forward had been taken. The precious 
orchid on her quivering bosom told me so. The 

Grand Duke S , whose taste for these rare 

flowers was well known, had surely placed it there. 

All, however, did not seem to go quite well. 
There was just a little speck on the horizon. 
Madame Vadimsky had discovered that Count de 
Luze had also booked a room at the Bear for the 
evening. In fact, she had accepted to accompany 
him to the Opera. She thought such an arrange- 
ment would both satisfy the Count, who, as she 
said with a shrug and a grimace, " pestered her " 
(pristaet), and satisfy the Grand Duke's wish to 
avoid gossip. She was, of course, treating all her 
household for the evening. Her brother, younger 
sister and widowed sister, who lived with her, 
would all join the Count's party at the Opera 
and revel with him at the Bear. She would like 
me to share the evening with the rest of the 
household. For the Bear, she had invited several 
well-known poets and artists. As wife of the 
proprietor of one of Petrograd's leading newspapers, 
she had always protected and encouraged budding 
genius. She had made her salon a meeting-place 
for the talents, always bringing together the artist 
and the editor. 

She would, however, be glad if I would help 
to keep Count de Luze cheerful. Pie was inclined 
to look on the tragic side of things. She did not 

1 1 I 



The Blue Steppes 

wish to offend him in any way, but she suspected 
he did not quite like her having accepted the 
Grand Duke's invitation. He was stupid to be 
jealous. Perhaps I could try to impress upon 
him that it was merely a high honour no woman 
could be reasonably expected to decline. Women 
were all made to ornament society, were they 
not ? She would be very grateful if I accepted to 
join the party at the Opera and the Bear. 

Of course, I went, thinking myself lucky for 
the chance of meeting so many of Russia's literary 
and artistic *' stars". There was Leonid Andreyev, 
mixing his eschatological gloom with sudden out- 
bursts of uncontrollable hilarity and coarse wit. 
Alexander Blok, tall, fair and handsome, the most 
modest poet I have ever met, shed his melancholy 
after the second glass of champagne and com- 
posed verses on the spot, to the great delight of 
the company. They appeared next day in Madame 
Vadimsky's Petrograd Chronicle^ a doleful hymn 
to dead, erotic madness. Everyone seemed to 
brighten up under the influence of the wines and 
songs. Only Count de Luze, his hand perpetually 
tugging at his black beard, seemed to be on 
tenterhooks. He danced in and out of the long, 
gilded room as though he could never quite make 
up his mind which room he ought to be in. I 
once went along the corridor and saw him hunch- 
ing his little body outside a door and holding his 
hand Hke a trumpet to his ear. He hurried away 
at the sound of footsteps and disappeared into a 
cloakroom. As I passed the door I heard the 

I 12 



The House hi the Horse guards* Alley 

loud grufF voice peculiar to the big RomanofF 
men. What exactly happened at Madame Vadi- 

msky's evening with the Grand Duke S I 

cannot say. I only know that the rivalry between 
the two men seemed to grow more and more 
acute. 

Having made arrangements to take my meals at 
Madame Vadimsky's table, I was soon given a 
clearer view of the exact state of things in the 
household. 

Every morning Count de Luze appeared for 
lunch. He usually arrived when Madame Vadi- 
msky was just taking her morning bath before 
coming out to lunch. His form was often dimly 
discerned in the shadowy hall, crouching before 
the bathroom door, while he uttered his devotions 
to the invisible beauty. I often wondered how 
a man could behave in such a strange manner, 
but knew that in Russia no one ever took it for 
merit to hide one's feelings or not to express them 
in high-flown language. In fact, Russians in 
their daily use are both the coarsest and the most 
literary talkers of the world. Most Russians know, 
but are never bound, by what is known as good 
form. 

As for the Grand Duke S , his attentions 

continued assiduous and tender. He usually arrived 
in the afternoon about teatime, having first sent 
a commissionaire with a bouquet of costly flowers. 
Tea was always served separately for the couple, 
in Madame Vadimsky's Rococo boudoir. 

Sometimes Madame Vadimsky would accompany 
H 113 



The Blue Steppes 

the Grand Duke to a cabaret or restaurant. Other 
evenings she would devote to Count de Luze. 
Thus things went on for about three weeks. The 
beautiful woman seemed to float bodily and spiri- 
tually between the two men. At times her face 
was lit with hope, at times with weary indiffer- 
ence, almost despair. And all the while the little, 
black-bearded man was urging her on his knees 
to marry him, while the huge Romanoff spoke 
his mind in flowers. The rest of his intentions 
were not disclosed to me. 



114 



Chapter Fill 

THE HOUSE IN 

THE HORSEGUARDS' ALLET— {continued) 

I 

ONE DAY events at the house in the Horse- 
guards' Alley were suddenly precipitated 
by the explosion of a moral bombshell. 
I came across to breakfast in the dining-room of 
Madame Vadimsky's flat and found the whole 
household assembled in various attires and a single 
mind. Madame Vadimsky herself was dressed in 
the bird-covered kimono in which she had first 
appeared to my eyes. 

" The rogue ! the ne'er-do-well ! " she repeated, 
while the rest of the family joined in a sort of 
imitative chorus. 

" It is just as I expected ! " she said, turning 
to me as I entered the room. " He has put us 
into the galosh ! " Which is the Russian expres- 
sion for " We are in the soup ! " 

Who was this awful "He ", I wondered ? The 
Grand Duke ? Count de Luze ? All the family 
saw the questioning look of ignorance and surprise 
in my face and rushed to settle their discomforts 



The Blue Steppes 

on me, describing in excited tones all the magnitude 
of the evil that had been perpetrated on them by 
*' that ne'er-do-well ". 

Why the whole family should have shown such 
fearful alarm, I couldn't understand. From what 
I was told I gathered that the victim of the ne'er- 
do-well's attack was Madame Vadimsky alone. 
But, somehow, the brothers and sisters and various 
relations whom she had taken to live with her 
since she inherited the dead husband's fortune, 
all seemed to take the affair just as much to 
heart. When I had succeeded in fighting my 
way through a great bombardment of expletives 
and denunciations, I felt as ready as the rest 
for a taste of breakfast. While this was being 
served, Madame Vadimsky, assisted by the noisy 
punctuations of the family chorus, told me the 
story. 

She sat at the head of the table by the shining, 
hissing samovar, her face still flushed with the 
surge of dreams and the morning's dark surprise. 
On the fine lace camisole that peeped through the 
opening of her kimono lay a quivering orchid. 

*' N'est-ce pas. Monsieur ? " she said, never, 
even in her obvious excitement, losing the languor 
of her voice, which seemed only to deepen. 
" N'est-ce pas que c'est le comble de I'insolence .'' 
I must tell you that my late husband was a very 
giddy fellow. I don't know what sort of life he 
led till I met him, nor do I care. All that is of 
the past. I came to nurse him here after I had 
served in his hospital for the wounded upstairs 
ii6 



The House in the Horseguards' Alley 

for over a year. I nursed him devotedly, sparing 
nothing of myself, for over three months. It 
was too late. He died. But before he died, he 
declared he wished to make me his wife in order 
to show his gratitude for what I had tried to do 
for him. He said he wished me to enjoy all the 
good things he possessed. We were married just 
three days before his death. He had no relations 
except the old aunt who lives on the ground 
floor. She is half mad and may be carried off 
by a stroke any day. She is very strange in 
her ways and speech. She says she knows the 
whereabouts of a will which leaves half the 
property to her and the other half to Peter, 
the boy of twenty-two, whom you saw here 
the other dav. He is a dreadful ne'er-do- 
well. He is the cause of all this trouble. My 
late husband was never married before he was 
married to me, but he had a child by his washer- 
woman. Peter was that child. My husband had 
him brought up at a gymnasium (secondary 
school) and pensioned the washerwoman off, 
on condition she lived in her native village 
and never came to town. After he died the 
old aunt declared that she had many years 
ago persuaded her nephew to adopt his son 
legally. We all thought she was raving, as 
she often does when she's on the verge of a 
new mental attack. But Peter heard what she 
said and without saying anything to me made 
inquiries at the Ministry of Justice. Although 
he was here the other day drinking tea 

117 



The Blue Steppes 

and behaving as though he was the best of 
friends, accepting the big allowance I made him 
out of the estate, he sent me this morning a 
terrible letter. It was full of threats, saying that 
he would have me turned out of the house, that 
I had only married his father for the sake of the 
money, that he was lawful heir and had been 
legally adopted by his own father. He called 
me an interloper who had come in at the last 
moment to deprive him of his lawful rights. He 
had his father's blood in his veins, whereas I had 
never been Madame Vadimsky except by the will 
of a dying man. What do you think ? Isn't 
this the height of insolence ? Is he not a wicked 
ne'er-do-well ? " 

" Ne'er-do-well ! Oojhusssny nyegodjai ! " (hor- 
rible ne'er-do-well) chorused the entire household 
with terrific emphasis. 

I condoned with Madame Vadimsky to the 
best of my power. It was, indeed, a dreadful 
blow to her at the very moment when her hopes 
stood high in the direction of the Grand Duke. 
As for penniless Count de Luze, she must have 
realized that in spite of his deep affection he 
would soon fade away from her life when she 
ceased to be the rich widow. 

I remembered having seen Peter a few days 
before. He had come to tea, bringing with him a 
couple of young men friends of the race-course 
type. I was in the dining-room when he arrived 
and was surprised to hear someone making " pop- 
ping " noises with his mouth, shouting snatches of 
ii8 



The House in the Horse guards^ Alley 

popular songs and laughing in a hideous manner. 
I went into the beautiful Rococo drawing-room 
and saw a young man with outstanding ears and 
red, sensuous lips. He was enjoying the delight of 
poking his finger into his mouth and bringing it 
out with a pop, after which elegance he broke into 
riotous laughter. With his two companions he 
kept jumping about the room, sitting straddling 
across the chairs and pretending to ride a horse, 
slapping the maidservants and pinching their arms, 
making cat-calls, etc. 

" This is my late husband's adopted son ! " 
Madame Vadimsky said, as she introduced him. 
At that moment he did not know he had been 
legally adopted. I recognized at once the type 
of young man turned out by the State secondary 
schools. It was to avoid the contamination of the 
public schools that most families of the aristocracy 
had their sons educated at home and w^ould send 
them to no institution except the Lyceum or 
the Law School, which were highly privileged. 
Yet the first step of the Kerensky Government 
was to *' democratize " them in the name of 
equality ! 

'' This wretched ne'er-do-well ", Madame 
Vadimsky went on, " has leagued himself with 
the old mad aunt. Together they will do all in 
their power to oust me from the house and from 
the possession of my husband's fortune. By law 
I am entitled to the widow's third if no will is 
found. Even in that case, the ne'er-do-well 
declares he will insist on the newspaper being 

119 



The Blue Steppes 

sold. It would be difficult to find such a good 
investment, 30 per cent. It would go for a 
trifle as things always do when families quarrel. 
In any case, it would mean long and costly liti- 
gation. I foresee all my share being swallowed 
up by the lawyers. Anyhow, he declares that the 
old mad aunt knows the whereabouts of a will in 
which M. Vadimsky left the estate in equal 
shares between them with a request to his son to 
make a suitable provision for me. A suitable 
provision ! " 

She waved her hand downwards with a gesture 
of contempt. The whole company of relations 
seated round the long breakfast table shuddered 
with horror and broke into loud execrations and 
protests. 

" How can he^ a washerwoman's son, know 
what a suitable provision means ? " she asked, 
lifting her eyebrows and shoulders. 

"Just listen to what he considers suitable ! " 

She unfolded the long letter she held in her 
hand and began to read : 



"Though old Aunt Claudia is considered by you and your people 
to be half mad, she is quite normal. Anyhow, she has lucid 
intervals except when she is suffering from indigestion. We all 
know that your people, especially Alexander Petrovich, your 
cousin, have tried to get her certified as mad and shut up in a 
madhouse. That would suit your purpose admirably, we know. 
But there are smarter men in the world than any your damned 
family can produce. You've reckoned without me, for one 
thing. I intend to take Aunt Claudia out of your keeping. She 
will be well looked after in the house I have bought at Gatchina. 
120 



The House in the Horseguards^ Alley 

She is not so mad as you think. She was always a clever woman 
and looked after my deceased father's business while he was 
having a merry time [the phrase was more idiomatic, but I have 
softened the expressions of the entire reading]. She saw to it 
that I was legally adopted and she declares she also saw to it that 
I was provided for as a blood relation should be in the will she 
got my father to draw up when she saw how you were nursing 
the poor, dying man so devotedly, so affectionately, wearing your 
body out for his sake, angel ! " 

" Kakoe nakhalstvo ! " (what impudence !) 
shouted the family chorus, bursting into so loud 
an explosion of wrath that it was some time before 
the spirits were quietened and the reading could 
continue. 

"She had her wits about her for all you thought she was totter- 
ing on the verge of insanity. Anyhow, she saw to it that while 
you nursed my dear, deceased father you didn't nurse his fortune 
too. One day when you were out of the way — God knows 
she had to watch like a cat to seize the opportunity. You were 
always devoting yourself so unsparingly, taking sandwiches at the 
poor man's bedside so as not to leave him even for meals. — 
One day, I say, when you had to stay outside more than usual, 
old Aunt Claudia got my dear, deceased father to make a short 
will for my sake. It was all done in a few minutes. She gave 
him a fountain-pen and he wrote it with his poor, trembling, 
dying hands on the back of a holy picture of the Virgin of Kazan. 
She had to hide it away pretty sharp because your angelic foot- 
steps sounded in the corridor. The excitement was so great 
that she went off soon after into one of her fits, and ever since 
she came to, she has been trying to remember where she hid the 
holy picture with my dear, deceased father's last will. She knows, 
however, what the terms of the will are. The estate was left 
between me and her, which is quite natural since we are the 
only blood relations, while you only became his wife by the gasp 
of a dying man. You ought to think yourself lucky you were 
even mentioned in the will. I was requested by my dear father 
to make a suitable provision for you. Of course, since you were 

121 



The Blue Steppes 

only a petty chinovnik's wife before you took up nursing, you 
ought to be glad to have a sum that will keep you handsomely 
in a three-roomed flat, drawing-room, dining-room and bedroom, 
you can use the public baths like the rest of us, one of your 
devoted relations would no doubt be willing to act as a domestic 
for you, I suppose so, at least, since they now fill my dear 
father's mansion. You would have enough for two new dresses 
a year, one at Easter and one at the Falling Asleep of the Virgin." — 
[August 15th.] 

Madame Vadimsky broke off at this point and 
looked before her speechless. 

I administered what consolation I could, knowing 
the heart of the eternal Eve. 

" I suppose they will both be black (she read on). Your devotion 
will never consent to wear any other colour, nor will it permit 
you to enjoy any such luxuries as automobiles, theatres, cabarets 
and expensive food. Your sorrow will be too deep and widowly 
to allow you even to dream of such frivolities. 

"Meanwhile I have taken steps with the lawyers, who have 
taken old Aunt Claudia's testimony and written to the adminis- 
tration board of the Petrograd Chronicle. You will be allowed 
to draw only one-third of the receipts for the present. For so 
much even you must hold yourself grateful to 
" Your devoted stepson, 

"Peter Nikolaich Vadimsky," 

When she folded up the letter and was silent, a 
deep sigh rose from her breast and a glistening 
tear trickled down her cheek. 

*' It is hard," she said, brushing the tear away 
with a little powder pufF she took from her satin 
bag. " See what people there are in the world. 
Life is one long martyrdom of suffering. When 
nature fails to make us unhappy, it is man who 
does his best." 
122 



The House in the Horse guards' Alley 

After which pessimistic remark she rose wearily 
and went into the drawing-room, calling out 
lovingly, though wearily, to Petrushka in the bay 
window. 



II 

I was copying Peter's letter in my " Book of 
Curiosities ", a sort of scrapbook I had long been 
keeping at the suggestion of Madame Olga Novi- 
koff, who had one called " The Book of Non- 
sense ", when Onofry, the manservant, entered. I 
had begged Madame Vadimsky to let me copy 
the letter in my book along with other strange 
incidents of my sojourn in Russia. She had been 
delighted to have the enormity registered in black 
and white in an Impartial log-book, but for some 
reason had just sent Onofry to ask for the return 
of the original. 

It was about five o'clock. The Grand Duke 

S must have surely arrived for his afternoon 

visit. Indeed, I was certain of it. A small sprig 
of maiden-hair fern was caught in one of the 
brass buttons of the manservant's coat about the 
middle of the body. Paid servants, I have always 
noticed, treat the most exquisite bouquet with 
the same indifference as a tray of crockery, whereas 
the ardour of the lover alone raises it to the level 
of the heart. At least, such was my experience in 
Russia, where the presentation of flowers by ardent 
lovers was as diffuse and elegant a practice as the 
giving of costly jewels. 

123 



The Blue Steppes 

I don't know what happened at that visit of 

the Grand Duke S . No doubt he was 

informed of Peter Vadimsky's nefarious intentions 
regarding the disputed estate. For some days 
afterwards, Madame Vadimsky seemed to go about 
in a state of glass-eyed torpor, sighing heavily at 
any remark addressed to her and wearing her 
kimono till late in the evening, when it was time 
to dress for the theatre. Consolation must have 
been sedulously offered to her both by the Grand 

Duke S and Count de Luze. The former 

arrived every afternoon at his usual hour, varying 
his tribute of flowers with gems and objects of art 
from Faberge, the Court jeweller, and further, 
escorting the beautiful widow to cabarets, ballets 
and restaurants. As if to make up for lost ground. 
Count de Luze came to lunch every day, faithfully 
prefacing his attendance at the table with that 
dreadful serenade at the bathroom door. The 
intonations of his voice seemed to become on 
those occasions, whenever I happened to hear him, 
almost woe-begone. 

It would be difficult for me to describe adequately 
the moods, manners and actions of Russians in 
their own country. The Anglo-Saxon mind is so 
far removed from what obtained in Russia that I 
have always had extreme difficulty in getting it to 
understand. In fact, it can never *' understand ", 
since it is so positively attached to what it calls 
its own " common sense ", whereas the Russian 
soul is essentially negative in its relation to con- 
vention, morality, or any " prejudice " of tradi- 
124 



The House In the Horse guards' Alley 

tlon. As for reason, who can tell us where it is ? 
Russians will prove that there is no argument 
which reason can put up which reason will not 
overthrow. And what authority is there to tell us 
what is reason ? For any group of men to impose 
their view is " tyranny, prejudice ", especially 
to the Russian who passionately desires to find a 
reason in life, only to find himself baffled by 
the dark mystery of eternity and extinction. 
Russia, perhaps, has shown us like a martyr how 
terrible are the tortures of the dark gulf into 
which reason alone must lead us. In this lies the 
tragedy of the Russian intelligentsia. It should 
claim less our contempt than our pity and sym- 
pathy, since its sufferings would be our own if we 
could feel as intensely. This we do not, because 
we shun intense feeling, whereas the cult of feeling 
was the pride of Dostoievsky's Russia. " The heart 
reigns in Russia " was that great writer's slogan. 
No one, therefore, should be surprised at Count 
de Luze's public outpourings, nor at any other 
unconventional manifestations, declarations, confes- 
sions, revelations, or disregard for public opinion. 
Nobody in Russia ever dreamed of regarding 
public opinion. There was no standard. As for 
expression, however, it was the national occupation. 
The mighty Empire of the Tsars was drowned in a 
sea of talk. No one seemed to realize that a 
little reticence is a godly thing. 

So I thought very often when I was obliged 
to overhear the amorous disquisitions of Count de 
Luze at the bathroom door. Perhaps it was this 

125 



The Blue Steppes 

renewal of the rivals' ardours that threw Madame 
Vadimsky into such a lamentable state of torpor 
and indecision. Coupled with the treacherous 
stroke of Peter Vadimsky which seemed to take 
the ground from beneath her feet, the lovers' 
insistence must have bewildered her. Even Petru- 
shka was allowed to wear the same coat for more 
than three days running. 

On the other hand, the members of her family 
were roused to active vigilance. One of them, 
Stepan Ivanich Piatko, a shapeless, bloated cousin 
of middle age, suddenly developed a whirlwind of 
energy. Previously he had merely divided his 
lethargic, flabby life between detective novels, 
eating, and the Russian baths. He used to rise 
about eleven, spend an hour at breakfast, filling 
his glass of tea about a dozen times at the samovar 
and talking with other members of the family 
chiefly on the future paradise of Socialism, take a 
ten minutes' walk to the library to change his 
novel, come in to lunch at half-past twelve, remain 
talking and eating rusks after lunch till about half- 
past two, retire for a few minutes while the table 
was cleared for tea at three, return to the table 
for the samovar, tea, talk and eating till about 
half-past four, then take his novel and go to the 
baths, where he would talk for another hour, 
sitting on the wooden shelves of the steaming 
chamber in a state of nature, retire to the reclining 
cubicle and devour the detective novel till dinner- 
time, after which he would remain talking and 
drinking tea by the samovar till it was time to go 
126 



The House in the Horse guards' Alley 

to a Ciibarct and night life. Such a Hfe was 
typical of thousands. Only among the peasants 
and workers the talking was usually assisted by 
chewing sunflower seeds and spitting out the 
husks. 

Since the receipt of Peter Vadimsky's letter, 
Stepan Piatko shed his old habits and woke to 
an aim in life. He rose early, as early even as 
mad Aunt Claudia, who lived in the flat on the 
ground floor, and was heard droning her prayers 
at five every morning. He somehow conceived a 
great affection for this poor old woman, who was 
really no relation of his. Wherever she went, he 
followed, offering her his help and sympathy, 
writing her letters and screening her from the hard 
blows of life. 

Once I was just entering my flat by the coachway 
when I w^as surprised to see Stepan Piatko carrying 
some rugs out of Aunt Claudia's front door, 
which was under the coachway arch, and placing 
them in the motor-car. It was about five o'clock, 

the time when tlie Grand Duke S usually 

arrived and Piatko went to the baths. He had 
cvidendy given up that habit. As he spread out 
the rugs in the car, he carried on an address in a 
loud voice with someone inside Aunt Claudia's 
door. 

" Leave that to me, Tiotooshka (Httlc aunt)," 
I heard him say. "We shall arrange everything 
so that you may have a cosy time. You have 
never been understood really. People are heart- 
less. Like animals, they bark at everyone that 

127 



The Blue Steppes 

doesn't wear the same skin. Rely on me. I 
will be your prop. You will have nothing to 
fear as long as I am alive to stand by you. Come, 
auntie dearie, get into the little car-rie. You are 
safe with me." 

It is impossible in English to convey the 
endearing sense of this big man's intonation and 
diminutives. Even Russian plays translated into 
English fall as flat as pancakes, because no English 
can interpret the voluminous ups and downs of 
the Russian intonation, the richness of its poly- 
syllabic words, the intense feeling of its diminutives 
and moods. 

The tottering woman, who, in fact, was little 
over fifty, got into the car and was solicitously 
covered with the rugs by Stepan Piatko, who 
took the seat beside her and ordered the chauffeur 
to drive to the Islands, a favourite spot for afternoon 
excursions on the Gulf of Finland. 

When they returned in the evening it was to 
announce that Stepan Piatko had induced Aunt 
Claudia to pay a visit to a miraculous ikon of the 
Mother of God somewhere along the Schlusselberg 
Chausee, in the hope that her infirmity might be 
cured by heavenly intervention. 

The announcement must have caused a stir in 
the household, for Onofry came to my flat with 
some hot water just before dinner and was bursting 
with news. He had had a lucky day, he said. 
The Grand Duke S — — had been in a generous 
mood and had rewarded him with a "pink 'un" 
(a ten-rouble note). Furthermore, Stepan Piatko 
128 



The House in the Horseguards* Alley 

had shown unmistakable signs of being a noble- 
man, having for the first time since his arrival in 
the house given him, Onofry, a tip. That was 
because Stepan Piatko had been to pray before 
the ikon and was expecting it to be brought to 
the house that evening. 

" What ikon is it ? " I asked. 

" The Schlusselberg Ikon, sir," he replied. 
" It has a great reputation. People go to it in 
pilgrimage from all over Russia. It is a wonder- 
working ikon. Lord, sir, I remember the days 
when it was only a poor little ikon on the side of a 
crumbling brick wall. I used to play in the field 
near it when I was a boy. It is near my village. 
I never thought it would become a wonder- 
worker. Praise to God ! She (the ikon) has lived 
till glory, the blissful one." 

He crossed himself and bowed before the ikon in 
the corner of the room. 

" It was all through a miracle," he went on. 
" No one ever came to the old church. It was 
falling into ruins. God doesn't like this place, 
the old people said. The pope was starving, his 
cassock in rags. The people were all leaving the 
village for the factories, for the town. How 
could he live, the poor one ? The popadya 
(pope's wife) prayed before the ikon. ' Give, 
intercessor ! ' she said. ' Grant help. We are 
beaten down with misery. We starve. Grant us 
to keep thy image bright, to praise thee. Mother 
of God.' The popadya prayed, shed bitter tears, 
wiped her eyes and went into the izba. The 
I 129 



The Blue Steppes 

pope was sitting under the stove, moaning. Sud- 
denly rain fell. Big drops beat the izba window. 
Dark clouds rose up. Thunder rumbled. The 
popadya covered her head with her mantle, moan- 
ing. ' Better the Lord should take us,' she said. 
* Life, the beggar, will pass, bowing low.' The 
storm raged. The logs of the izba rocked. Dark- 
ness as of the Last Day looked in at the window. 
The lightning stabbed the eyes. The wind howled. 
The thunder split the ears. Lord, there never 
was known such a storm. Then it died sud- 
denly. The pope looked out of the window and 
the popadya threw off her mantle. ' Look ! 
little father ! ' she said. She was standing behind 
the pope and looking out of the window towards 
the church. She crossed herself. ' Look at the 
ikon on the church wall ! ' she said. ' It shines ! 
It is alight ! The lightning has set it on fire.' 
She flew out of the door into the road with the 
pope waddling after her. Litde fathers ! it was a 
miracle ! The blissful one was tired of being 
neglected. She sent the lightning from heaven 
and it struck the alms-box at the foot of the ikon 
and all the little silver coins flew out and formed a 
riza (the gold or silver cover of an ikon) on the 
blissful one. Choodo ! choodo ! (a miracle !) 
the pope and the popadya cried out and ran to 
the belfry. They beat the tocsin on the church 
bells and all the villagers rushed out of their izbas 
and saw the wonder. Lord ! what a time it 
was ! People prayed on their knees before the 
wonder-working ikon all night. The blind and 
130 



The House in the Horseguards' Alley 

the sick and lame came from all the villages around. 
Many were cured and left their crutches behind. 
Pilgrimages started. The Metropolitan came with 
the monks and held a moleben (Te Deum). 
Everyone gave money to the wonder-worker. 
Soon a great church was built and people came 
from all parts of Russia, from Tiphlis, from Siberia. 
In crowds they came." 

'* When did this happen ? " I asked him. 

"Just before the war," he replied. " If the 
gentleman wishes, I can take you there. It is 
not far from Petrograd." 

I thanked him for the offer and preferred to see 
the wonder-working ikon when it was brought to 
the house for the benefit of mad Aunt Claudia. 
Stepan Piatko, it appeared, had induced the church 
authorities to have the ikon sent to the house. 
There would be a ceremony that evening in the 
drawing-room. I don't know what particular 
*' miracle " Stepan Piatko expected the ikon to 
work on Aunt Claudia. I heard that she was 
deeply touched by this remarkable effort on his 
part to secure the help of heaven on her behalf. 
I put off going to the Ballet Russe that evening 
for the express purpose of seeing the wonderful 
ikon and what effect it would produce on the 
poor, mad woman. Perhaps she was not mad but 
wTak-minded. At any rate, I met her in the corridor 
as she came upstairs to prepare the table for the 
ikon in the drawing-room. She was very agitated, 
nodding her head as though she had St. Vitus* 
dance, and muttering to herself. 

131 



The Blue Steppes 

'* At last, there's a man who cares for me ! " 
she kept repeating. " He does not spare himself 
for my sake." 

Muttering and trembling, she passed down the 
corridor, a white lace kerchief thrown in a bride's 
fashion over her straggling, dishevelled, grey hair. 



132 



Chapter IX 

THE HOUSE IN 

THE HORSEGUARDS' ALLEY— {continued) 

I 

THERE HAD BEEN a heavy fall of snow 
just before dinner. It was about the end 
of November and still no settled wintry- 
weather had set in. The snow had not yet suc- 
ceeded in keeping its hold on the streets. Never- 
theless, each fresh fall brought with it the 
hollow hush of the mantled roadways, deaden- 
ing the sound of the traffic and offering a sort 
of invisible loud-speaker to the voices of the 
passers-by. 

I waited in company with several members of 
the household in the overhanging window. The 
curtains had not been drawn so that we might 
peer out into the snow-lit dark and report the 
approach of the carriage bearing the wonder- 
working ikon. Madame Vadimsky was not at 
home. She had gone off with the Grand Duke 

S after an agitated evening, having played 

Chopin and sung Russian gypsy songs at the 
piano in her Rococo boudoir for the pacification 
of the Grand Duke during his closeted converse 

133 



The Blue Steppes 

with her. She had sung with a depth of feeling 
and poetic rhythm that I had never associated with 
her usual, half-dazed look. One never knows what 
is in a person until something brings it out. What 
that was in her case, I had no chance of knowing 
at the time. All I knew was that she issued joy- 
fully from her chamber, having altered her mind 
and decided not to stay for the reception of the 
wonder-working ikon. Instead, she ordered the 
car and left with her admirer, who, in order to 
avoid observation, always drove up in a common 
isvoschik. 

Petrushka remained on his perch and amused 
himself by taking sly pulls at the women's hair. 
He wore his latest purple satin coat on which 
Madame Vadimsky had embroidered a strange 
coronet. It was unmistakably larger than any 
other she had sewn before, bravely done in gold 
thread and bearing obvious resemblance with the 
kind in use among members of the Imperial 
family. I could not help noticing from this 
trivial fact the direction which Madame Vadimsky 's 
thoughts and dreams had taken. And why not ? 
I knew already of Russian Grand Dukes who 
had defied Imperial convention and were living 
abroad, in London even, with the women they 
loved and had chosen to make their wives. I 
wished her good luck. 

Count de Luze was not there. He had an 
appointment with certain officials of the Ministry 
of Justice, with whom he was using his influence 
to obtain some sort of preferential treatment for 

134 



The House in the Horse guards* Alley 

the injured widow against the machinations of Peter 
Vadimsky. 

Mad Aunt Chiudia, for so she w^as always spoken 
of by the members of Madame Vadimsky 's family, 
was downstairs in her flat preparing for the recep- 
tion. She had spent more than an hour arranging 
a table at one end of the drawing-room, covering 
it with a white cloth, and decorating it with 
flowers (relics of the Grand Duke's offerings to 
his lady love) and dark, wax candles. A strange, 
ecstatic gleam had lit up her wandering eyes. 

For the rest, the whole ceremonial seemed to be 
in the hands of its inspirer, Stepan Piatko. He 
had arrayed himself in a dress suit, with swallow 
tail coat and patent shoes. Chattering energy 
exuded from him without ceasing. Gone was the 
listless man whose life had revolved around eating 
and drinking, detective novels and the steaming 
baths. His endless talk was now accompanied 
by feverish action, edifying solicitude for the 
comfort of others, for the w^elfare of the offended 
and despised. 

" Leave it to me. We will arrange every- 
thing ! " were the two phrases that fell incessantly 
from his cherry-red lips. And everyone, startled 
out of his or her fleshly drowsiness by the contrast 
of Stepan Piatko's radiant energy and goodwill, 
resigned himself completely, murmuring to his 
neighbour : " What an energetic, kind-hearted 
fellow is Stepan Ivanich ! " 

Only Onofry, the manservant, accustomed to 
count for so much in the ordering of the house 

135 



The Blue Steppe i 

during the lifetime of his late bachelor master, 
went about with a frown and beat the air with his 
right hand, muttering : " The nameless one ! So 
he's found a burrow for himself ! " He had long 
been nursing a grudge against the new order of 
things. 

II 

We had been watching in the darkness for more 
than half an hour. Lights came and went, gliding 
pallidly over the bluish snow. Now and again a 
squad of soldiers, returning to the barracks of the 
Horse Guards near by, swung along the snow- 
muffled street with a plodding of heavy boots or 
singing a lilting song in unison. How their strong 
voices echoed down the quiet street and in the 
courtyard : 

"Barinya, barinya, 

V baraban oodarila 
Russ, dvah, tri . . . !" 

Their mirth seemed to cleave a way through 
the shadows of the night. When they were gone, 
the snow-padded darkness fell back with a dead 
hush. 

Tired of waiting, the young women fell to 
counting the number of passers-by, to guess one 
against the other whether the dim figure entering 
the top of the alley was a man or a woman and 
paying ten copecks for each false guess. 

Mad Aunt Claudia sent up time after time to 
inquire if the " blissful one " was seen approach- 
136 



The House in the Horse guards* Alley 

ing. There were obviously great expectations in 
the flat below. 

The girls, tired of guessing at men and women, 
turned to the lights of passing vehicles, motor or 
horse. They were looking up towards the avenue, 
w^hen a sudden beating of horses' hoofs and a 
rumbling of wheels in the other direction drew 
their attention. A great, old-fashioned coach, drawn 
by three horses and swaying on heavy springs, 
turned the bend by Count Fredericks's house. 
The two women sprung up and rushed out into 
the hall, shouting " Eedoot ! cedoo-oot ! " (they 
come !). 

In a moment the whole household was in a 
w^hirl of feverish excitement. Men and women 
rushed about, calling to one another " eedoot, 
eedoot ! " and knocking over chairs in their agita- 
tion. The servants all rushed in from the kitchens 
and pantries, blocking the doorways and crossing 
themselves. 

Outside, I saw the great coach draw up at the 
archway. Stepan Piatko rushed out with a flaming 
wax taper and wrenched open the door. In the 
flickering light of the broad wick the round, 
bearded faces of three monks appeared. They 
stepped out, their shadows dancing black and 
ominous on the white snow. Crossing themselves, 
they turned to the open door of the coach and 
bowed low. Some flakes of falling snow flecked 
their black gowns and melted in their long hair. 
From the dark interior of the coach a fourth 
monk appeared, holding against his breast a shining 

137 



The Blue Steppes 

ikon festooned with flowers and ribbons. Stepan 
Piatko bowed deeply, crossing himself without 
ceasing. 

Suddenly from the archway the figure of a 
woman clad from head to foot in white rushed 
out and fell down before the wonder-working 
ikon. She threw back her head, looking up at it, 
then crossed herself and bowed down till her 
forehead touched the snow. Stepan Piatko had 
gone with the taper, showing the way. The 
white woman and the black monk seemed for a 
moment like two shadowy figures from an unreal 
world. They were gone an instant later into the 
house, the ikon being " rushed " from stopping- 
place to stopping-place. 

The monks came up the carpeted stairway 
with mournful, long-drawn intonings in voices 
that seemed to ooze out from some deep, rumbling 
sepulchre. They droned lethargically, choosing 
the lowest possible pitch and waddling like great 
fat penguins. Their " Go-o-spo-o-di-i Po-o-mi- 
i-loo-oo-i-i " 's (Lord have mercy) sounding like 
the dull mooing of a company of cows. 

A draft of sickening incense blew up with the 
cold wind from the open street door. 

I stood at the top of the stairs watching the 
procession mount. Everybody in the house had 
gone down to welcome the " blissful one ". 
They crowded behind the ikon, crossing themselves 
and bowing. When the fat monk bearing the 
ikon passed into the drawing-room, I saw for the 
first time the woman in white. To my amaze- 

138 



The House In the Horseguards^ Alley 

ment, I recognized mcid Aunt Claudia, dressed 
like a bride with white satin dress, white shoes 
and veil and carrying the curled white chrysanthe- 
mums which the Grand Duke S had offered 

that afternoon to Madame Vadimsky. . . . 

Ill 

The strangest thing happened at that visit of 
the wonder-working ikon. Whether it was part of 
Stepan Piatko's philanthropic schemes for the 
** offended and despised " or just a sudden whim 
of mad Aunt Claudia, it would be hard to decide. 
Anyhow, the mad woman's alarming conduct took 
the family by surprise and confirmed them in 
their belief that she was on the verge of dangerous 
insanity. 

" This is final," one of them said to me in the 
hall, as the droning proceeded in the drawing- 
room before the ikon, placed on the white-robed 
table. *' What further proof is necessary that she is 
stark mad ? She should be put away. She may 
do serious harm next time." 

Stepan Piatko, however, was not of this opinion. 
He quite agreed that Aunt Claudia was mad, but 
that it would be wrong to put her away for the 
sake of such harmless outbursts. She had lucid 
intervals. Besides, human feeling commanded us 
to shield and cherish her in her misfortune. 
Wasn't she a droll thing ? She had actually taken 
it into her head that he was in love with her. 
Silly creature ! He had only tried to make her 



The^ Blue" Steppes 

feel that there was someone in the world who 
cared for her and tried to make her lonely life 
more bearable. But she had got the idea fixed 
in her head. She had actually dressed herself 
up like that because she believed she was going to 
be betrothed to him that evening after the cere- 
mony with the ikon. No ! it was useless to be 
angry with her or want to get rid of her. One 
had to humour her, let her believe she was getting 
what she imagined. 

" Leave it to me ! " he repeated. " We will 
arrange everything ! " 

He informed the household one after the other 
of his intentions. He would let the monks per- 
form his betrothal with mad Aunt Claudia lest 
any hitch in her mad intentions should cause her 
to lose her head altogether and send her raving. 
She ought not to be thwarted. Lord have mercy ! 
why, it might even be the saving of her ! Wonders 
were always being worked. The ikon was there 
for that. Leave it to him. He would arrange 
everything. 

So to him it was left. The mock betrothal 
took place and when the wonder-working ikon 
was taken away by the monks in the troika coach, 
mad Aunt Claudia, in her betrothal veil and dress, 
sat down at the piano and sang in a terrible voice : 
*' The Song of the Volga Pirate ". 

Everybody applauded and encored the poor 
woman. It was a dismal song, hardly appropriate 
for the festive occasion, even though it was a 
mock one. For one thing, the bold pirate threw 
140 



The House in the Horseguards* Alley 

his beautiful bride overboard on tlie lioneymoon 
ni2:ht. I don't know whether Aunt Claudia 
glimpsed in her madness any prospect of similar 
treatment at the hands of her " betrothed ". 



IV 

Madame Vadimsky arrived home from her even- 
ing with the Grand Duke rather earlier that 
night than was her wont. She appeared about 
half-past eleven, while the household were still 
talking and sipping tea round the silent samovar. 
Thirsting for tea, she ordered the charcoal to be 
relighted. When this was done, she sat down at 
the table by the side of the hissing samovar and 
listened to the animated description of the night's 
events by the whole family. Stepan Piatko, as 
usual, managed to get the lead, subduing the 
weaker spirits into silence. 

"Just leave everything to me," he declared. 
" All will be well. One must humour these 
patients. Perhaps it would be better if somehow 
we arranged to be married. Aunt Claudia wouldn't 
know that it was only a mock ceremony. It 
would fulfil all her deranged imagination. No 
possible harm could come of it. On the con- 
trary, she would be well disposed and perhaps I 
might manage to bring her round to our side 
against that ne'er-do-well. It seems to me, at 
least, that a little deception of that sort would 
make everything work out all right. What then .? 
Is it not a mad woman's whim ? " 

141 



The Blue Steppes 

This he said, shrugging his shoulders and spread- 
ing out his flabby hands. Madame Vadimsky did 
not quite like the idea of trifling with the Church's 
ceremonies even to humour a mad woman. 

*' Leave it to me ! " he urged. " We will 
arrange everything." 

Seemingly, matters were left to his handling. 
He always managed to have his way in the long 
run, findino: resistance a mere matter of half a 
dozen words and a sigh. At that moment, how- 
ever, something happened which switched off all 
discussion of the subject. 

Poor Madame Vadimsky ! The fates seemed 
to have contrived a mortal conspiracy against her. 
When this new blow was struck, she looked so 
haggard and thunderstruck that one almost wanted 
to take her into one's arms to shield her from her 
own bewilderment. For all her stately beauty 
and moulded build, she seemed to fade away 
spiritually beneath the buffets of fate. 

How she blanched when Onofry brought her 
the news ! The front door bell had rung and 
he had found outside a man with a portmanteau in 
his hand. 

*' He's waidng in the hall, your excellency,'* 
Onofry announced. *' He says he's just arrived 
from Brazil and wants you to put him up. The 
hotels are full with the military." 

" Brazil ? " she asked, staggered by the announce- 
ment. *' What's his name ? " 

" He wouldn't say, your excellency. He said 
you would understand. From Brazil." 
142 



The House in the Horseguards^ Alley 

She rose from the table, holding out both her 
beautiful hands before her and staring open- 
mouthed. 

"It is lie ! " she stammered to the bewildered 
family. 

*' Who ? who .'' " they clamoured, rising up 
noisily from their seats with that familiar panic 
which sweeps Russians so often. 

" Klein ! " she replied. " My first husband ! " 

" What does he want .? tell him to go away ! " 
Stepan Piatko growled heavily, making towards the 
hall door. *' What daring is this, if you please .'' " 

He went out into the hall, forgetting in his 
excitement to utter his familiar pacifying phrase : 
" Leave it to me ! " though from the manner in 
which he took the matter into his hands it was 
evident he meant it. 

We heard his voice, raised to a high, angry 
pitch, bombarding the unwelcome visitor : " You, 
brother, have come to the wrong place. Here 
are different arrangements from those you left. 
There is nothing for you to seek here. This is 
not a charity institution. . . ." 

The other man's voice was equally loud and 
forceful. 

" Who are you to talk to me in this manner ? 
I am the father of my son, who is here in the 
house. I will be near my son. What does it 
matter if my wife is divorced from me ? She is a 
\\idow now and I have divorced my second wife. 
Are you anxious to marry her t What are you 
doing in the house ? . . ." 

H3 



The Blue Steppes 

While the altercation went on, Madame 
Vadimsky took her son of ten into her arms, sat 
down by the samovar again and threw out stam- 
mering scraps of enlightenment on the situation. 
She had lived with Klein five years. He was an 
official in the Foreign Office. She divorced him. 
They were miserably poor, while she had expensive 
tastes he could not afford to satisfy. He found 
another woman, and went to Brazil in the Russian 
service. She had never heard a word from him 
since, though he had sent a postcard to his son on 
his name's day each year. What could she do ? 
How every hand seemed to be hard upon her ! 

The angry words in the hall were suddenly cut 
short by the appearance of a short, thick-set man 
of about thirty-five in the doorway of the dining- 
room. He threw a rapid glance at the astonished 
faces presented to him, and, catching sight of his 
young son in his former wife's arms, threw out 
his arms with a tremendous gesture of welcome 
and appeal, crying out in a loud, emotional voice : 
" Kotya ! my darling son ! Papa has come back ! " 

The boy hesitated for a moment, looked up into 
his mother's eyes, then, tearing himself away, 
rushed across the room and flung himself into the 
man's outspread arms. Kisses, huggings and 
" goo-goo " murmurings followed. Impossible for 
me to describe the orgy ! 

" Papa will sleep in my bed to-night. I will 
sleep on the ottoman," the boy declared, turning 
to his mother. 

So it was arranged. M. Klein, smiling and 
144 



The House in the Horseguards^ Alley 

bowing, kissed his wife's hand and the hands of 
the rest of the women, shook hands with the men 
and took his seat at the table for refreshment from 
the samovar. 

I left the dining-room about one in the morning, 
the descriptions of life in Brazil and the general 
outpouring of news to the traveller still showing no 
signs whatever of coming to an end. 

The divorced husband seemed as happy and 
cosy as though the shadow of divorce had never 
entered his life, while Madame Vadimsky seemed 
to forget all her troubles in the anodyne of talk. 
Even Stepan Piatko seemed to have capitulated, 
drinking his endless glass of tea and chatdng with 
the newcomer as though he were the most welcome 
of guests. 



K 145 



Chapter X 

THE HOUSE IN 

THE HORSEGUARDS' ALLEY— {continued) 

I 

M. KLEIN left early next morning before 
Count de Luze arrived. No doubt he had 
been given to understand, as Stepan Piatko 
afterwards boasted, that his presence in the house 
was undesirable. The threads of his and his 
ex-wife's lives had been torn too far asunder to 
be brought together again so easily. Moreover, her 
own loose ends were waiting to be linked up with 
those of one or other of the two aspiring noble- 
men. It had, however, been recognized that he 
had some sort of family claim over his son. But 
that was not sufficient to have him in the house. 
Stepan Piatko, therefore, with deep insight into 
the grave possibilities of the situation, took it 
upon himself to voice the widow's sentiments and 
succeeded in inducing the importunate man to 
retire to an hotel. Not, however, before the 
latter had claimed the use of one of the motor- 
cars. How the vigilant, forceful Stepan had yielded 
to this demand was not adequately explained by 
him. All we knew was that the ex-husband had 
146 



The House in the Horse guards^ Alley 

left about eight o'clock \^'ith the yellow car, saying 
that he needed it for his errands and would thus 
save his izvoschik fares. Anyhow, he brought 
the car back to the garage each night, mounted 
the stairs to visit his son, and thus found an 
opportunity to see his ex-wife whenever she was 
at home for the evening. 

To put an end to this practice, Count de Luzc 
came to the fore. He had been seriously 
alarmed by the unexpected advent of the ex- 
husband and taken to imbibing " phytin " with 
his meals. He suggested that the yellow car 
should be got rid of, or hired out. It would 
be a profitable business, making up a little for 
the financial loss caused by Peter Vadimsky's 
misbehaviour. 

Seeing an advertisement in the Novoye Vremya^ 
he begged me to call at the American Embassy. 
The American Ambassador was looking for a car 
to hire by the mondi. Count de Luze thought 
that, being English, I should be better able to 
explain the terms. The Ambassador received me 
himself and was most agreeable. The terms were 
soon settled, and with diplomatic dignity the 
Ambassador turned over a paperweight on which 
was written : " Time is money ". At this silent 
hint, I redred. 

Thus the yellow car was disposed of for a while. 
When the ex-husband came for it and discovered 
it was gone, he accepted the situation with calm. 
Instead of going on his errands on foot, he entered 
the house and had tea with his son at the morning 

147 



The Blue Steppes 

samovar, ending by going to this son's bedroom, 
which had a door communicating with Madame 
Vadimsky's bedroom, and holding a conversation 
with her through the key-hole. 

Thus it came about that the ex-husband plied 
his suit in the morning at the bedroom door. 
Count de Luze followed with his about midday 

at the bathroom door, while the Grand Duke S 

took up the thread about five o'clock in the 
Rococo boudoir. 

It was the ever vigilant Stepan Piatko that kept 
all three from clashing. He shuffled the ex-hus- 
band out of the house before twelve, manoeuvred 
Count de Luze back to his Red Cross work before 
five and kept the way clear for the Grand Duke 
S . 

Matters with Peter Vadimsky, however, were 
not going smooth. Count de Luze's efforts 
at the Ministry of Justice had so far met 
with little success, while the income from the 
offices of the Petrograd Chronicle was seriously 
diminished at the instigafion of the ne'er-do- 
well Peter. 

The alarming advent of Madame Vadimsky's 
ex-husband had put off for a while all discussion 
of the mock marriage of Stepan Piatko with 
mad Aunt Claudia. His wits were too well occu- 
pied with steering the new arrival out of the 
course of matrimony or any other form of aspira- 
tion to the widow's fortune. 

Aunt Claudia, however, caused much amuse- 
ment by going seriously about the business of 
148 



The House in the Horse guards' Alley 

getting her trousseau together. She brought out 
sundry little hoards of gold from mysterious 
hiding-places and, escorted by Madame Vadimsky's 
widow sister, visited the shops on the Nevsky 
Prospect, choosing dainty, lace-trimmed underwear 
and luxurious corsets. 

When she brought back the roll of Liberty 
satin she had bought at the English Magazine 
for her bridal robe, she called all the household 
down to her flat and unfolded the shimmering 
white stuff for their admiration. How often during 
that little visit she turned to the pierglass and 
trimmed the straggling grey locks of her hair, 
tucking them up beneath the spray of orange- 
blossom she had just bought ! There were moments 
when her comment and genuine delight seemed 
quite normal, though she would always harp back 
to the fate of the bride of the Volga pirate, de- 
claring that she was arraying her body for 
paradise. 

The more attachment she displayed to the fixed 
idea of marrying Stepan Piatko, her " betrothed ", 
the deeper was the gloom and madness into which 
she plunged by way of re-action. At one moment 
she was ecstatic with thoughts of marriage, at 
another depressed with thoughts of death, threaten- 
ing to drown herself. To prevent this, Stepan 
Piatko always hovered about her except when he 
was acting as a sort of master of ceremonies to the 
rival suitors. 

He openly declared that if he could have a 
chance of searching mad Aunt Claudia's clothing 

149 



The Blue Steppes 

he was sure he would find the picture of the 
Virgin of Kasan on the back of which the late 
M. Vadimsky was supposed to have written his 
will and on which Peter Vadimsky was staking 
his larger claim. Unfortunately for Stepan, Aunt 
Claudia never undressed without locking the door 
of her room. On the other hand, everyone feared 
to let her use the bathroom as she had already 
been rescued once from attempting to drown 
herself in the bath. She never ceased declaring 
that she had hidden the holy picture some- 
where and would one day remember. Stepan 
left no stone unturned to hasten this happy 
event. His " betrothal " was one effort in that 
direction I am certain, his forthcoming " marriage " 
another. 

In order to hurry up this desirable state of 
mind, Stepan now urged the " marriage " should 
take place at an early date. Aunt Claudia was 
delighted and insisted quite naturally in sending 
an invitation to her only relation, Peter Vadimsky, 
at his newly acquired house in Gatchina. Stepan 
tried his utmost to persuade her that he was a 
ne'er-do-well and would bring no honour to the 
ceremony. Mad as she was. Aunt Claudia stood 
her ground. She would not think of giving her 
hand in marriage unless it was done with the 
assistance of her only relation. She was not a 
common girl picked up in the gutter. She had 
relations who could testify to her honour and con- 
dition. Her nephew would have given her away 
from under his own roof if he had been alive. 
150 



The House in the Horseguc/rds^ Alley 

As his son was living, the only male relation she 
had, she would not think of marrying without 
his presence. Such insistence on " principles " 
finally convinced Stepan, the emancipated intelli- 
gent, that Aunt Claudia was really out of her 
mind. 

Whether Stepan sent the letter of invitation to 
Peter Vadimsky or whether Aunt Claudia posted 
it secretly during one of her shopping expedi- 
tions, I cannot say. When she was not off her 
head with ecstasy or off her head with gloom, she 
must have used some method in her madness. 
Peter Vadimsky got to know of the forthcoming 
*' marriage ", without doubt. His reaction took 
a starding turn. None of the household expected 
him to appear at the ceremony. Appear, how- 
ever, he did, though a litde sooner than they 
expected. 

II 

I was about to draw the curtains of my bedroom 
window overlooking the inner court, when the 
movements of certain dark figures under the 
carriage archway attracted my attention. It was 
late at night, about twelve o'clock, I think. I 
had been to a theatre and afterwards had tea with 
the household in the dining-room. I had left 
them there, only Madame Vadimsky being absent 
in town. 

I should not have paid any further attention to 
the figures if I had not seen one of them creep 

151 



The Blue Steppes 

stealthily into the yard and look up at the windows. 
He stood for a few moments gazing at the bright 
light in the dining-room, then tiptoed back 
to his companions with both arms swaying as 
though he were balancing himself on a tight- 
rope. There was a confabulation for a few 
moments and then one shadowy figure went to 
Aunt Claudia's door and held his arm out towards 
the lock. 

Thinking there was mischief afoot, I rang the 
bell to summon Onofry. He came in a second, 
saw the men and went off like a shot to raise the 
alarm. He was certain they were burglars. 

A few moments later, Stepan Piatko, Ivan, his 
brother, Madame Vadimsky's brother, the fiance of 
her widowed sister, the chef and the yardman rushed 
from one of the back stairs across the yard and 
tackled the burglars. Instead of encountering resis- 
tance, they found the men quite calm and col- 
lected. They pointed to the open door and said 
something. 

Stepan and his crew entered Aunt Claudia's 
flat, while the three men remained outside. There 
was calm for a while, till a pistol-shot rang out 
and two men ran out, one of whom was carrying 
mad i\unt Claudia in his arms. I expected to see 
Stepan Piatko follow with his company, but to 
my surprise the light from the open door was 
darkened by no man's form. I heard the throb of 
motor engines and the grinding noise of a car 
setting off. 

Hurrying down to the scene of the affair, I 
152 



The House in the Horseguards' Alley 

found the whole b.ousehold in Aunt Claudia's 
hall, standing in a state of lingual panic around 
the prostrate form of Stepan Piatko. The 
fiance doctor was bending over him and feeling 
his pulse. Stepan was panting w^oefully, his 
flabby face still less agreeable to look at and 
deathly pale. No wound, however, was found, 
neither did the minutest search for the mark 
of the bullet in the walls or ceiling reveal any 
trace of it. 

The shot remained a mystery until Peter 
Vadimsky himself explained in the letter he sent 
next day that he had only fired a blank cartridge. 
He had decided to look after mad Aunt Claudia 
and prevent any " mocking " of his only relation 
by Stepan Piatko. He baldly declared that the 
latter wished to marry her because of her half- 
share in her nephew's estate according to the terms 
of the will on the back of the mislaid picture of the 
Virgin. 

There was great consternation in the house, as 
can be well imagined. Nevertheless, during her 
absence, Aunt Claudia's flat was subjected to a 
thorough search for the missing picture. It was 
nowhere to be found. From that it was con- 
cluded that she must wear it somewhere about her 
person in one of the many pockets she was accus- 
tomed to have in her garments for the secretion of 
banknotes. 

Stepan Piatko held a council of war with the 
male members of the household and decided that 
something must be done to get Aunt Claudia 

153 



The Blue Steppes 

back, by kidnapping, if necessary, after the example 
of Peter Vadinisky. He brought out his revolvers 
and I fancy he did not resort to the delicacy of 
having them loaded with blank cartridges. In 
fact, he discussed that matter and came to the 
conclusion that wolf had been shouted once too 
often. Extensive plans were laid to find out when 
Peter Vadimsky was hkely to be away from home, 
and to use that all-powerful weapon in Russia, 
the bribe. Stepan himself went down to Gatchina 
to sound the possibilities of bringing Peter's domes- 
tics into the plot. The ne'er-do-well had taken 
to himself a wife and established himself in an 
elaborate bourgeois manner. 

Stepan Piatko's artful plans, however, were 
brought to nought by an unforeseen turn of 
events. Aunt Claudia herself returned to the 
house in the Horseguards' Alley the third day 
after her kidnapping. She had hailed the first 
izvoschik she saw passing the house after she 
had recovered from her prostration at being 
forcibly separated from her " betrothed ". Peter 
Vadimsky was out of the house at the time, and 
not all the endearing charms of his young wife 
could succeed in convincing mad Aunt Claudia 
to stay. 

Peter Vadimsky, however, on hearing of her 
departure, rang up his step-mother on the tele- 
phone and seemed to console himself for the loss 
of his aunt by declaring that he had revealed to 
her all the base intentions of Stepan Piatko and of 
the household in general. There would now be 

154 



The House in the Horse guards' Alley 

little likelihood of her falling Into the trap. More- 
over, he called on Aunt Claudia \\'Ith his young 
bride the same evening to thank her for coming to 
his house-warming. 

Aunt Claudia, nevertheless, celebrated the occa- 
sion by stealing out of the house the same night 
and throwing herself into the Moika, one of the 
small canals near by. From this she was rescued 
by a sailor, taken to a hospital and brought home 
only after much telephoning on the part of Stepan 
to all the police-stations of the town. After that, 
everyone considered the mock marriage to be an 
absolute and immediate necessity. Humanitarian 
sentiments made the house ring with echoes. 
Pity, sad-eyed and gently shrugging Its shoulders, 
stole hourly through rooms. " Of course ! " it 
murmured, pouting its lips and inclining its head 
to one side, its palms outstretched and open. 
" It would be inhuman not to commiserate her." 

So it was arranged that some sort of mock 
marriage ceremony should be performed in one of 
the monasteries of Petrograd. For a consideration 
many a celebrant would be forthcoming to perform 
this barren ritual " in the name of humanity ", as 
Stepan Piatko was so fond of expressing it. 

Ill 

The days slipped by without any fresh develop- 
ment. I had a good deal of translating work to 
do and had borrowed a typing machine so that I 
could do everything in my room without bothering 



The Blue Steppes 

to walk across the frozen streets of the town or 
trying to hang on to the evil-smelling, crowded 
trams with the skin of my teeth. The lovers' 
rondo continued its tiresome refrain day after 
day, but still no final flourish was forthcoming to 
wind it up at last. Madame Vadimsky, I am 
sure, must have had the patience of Job. 

Mad Aunt Claudia's *' marriage " was put off 
indefinitely because no suitable monk and place 
had been found for the ceremony. After all, it 
was a mock performance and it was undesirable 
that people should talk about it. The alarmists 
would not understand that it was just a piece of 
well-doing " in the name of humanity ". Stepan 
Piatko, however, had taken to cultivating a pious 
friendship with a dissolute monk at the great 
monastery of St. Alexander Nevsky. The dis- 
orderly scenes occurring at that institution were 
the common talk of the town. They outvied the 
awful things attributed by decadent society to 
Rasputin. Whether they corresponded to reality 
or were just the depraved fictions of a sordid 
hankering for scum which had taken hold of all 
classes and professions, I could not say. I only 
knew from one or two visits I had paid to the 
famous monastery that dissolute scenes were quite 
probable. The convent corridors had been crowded 
with fashionable women, mostly neurotic and hys- 
terical, visiting some fashionable monk with a tale 
of marital woe. In fact, it was a common practice 
for them to go there both for consolation and to 
arrange their divorces with the Holy Synod. 

156 



The House in the Horseguards' Alley 

Now and again a drunken monk staggered down 
the corridor, ogling the women and pawing them. 
The cleansing broom of the church was held 
back far too long, either by the intrigues of the 
political Synod or by the all-enduring indifference 
of the Russian character. I had no doubt, there- 
fore, that Stepan Piatko w^ould soon reap the 
reward of his friendship with the monk. 

One night Aunt Claudia was called to array 
herself in her bridal dress. I did not see her 
personally, having been out at the time. When 
I arrived home about seven, I found the house 
deserted. Onofry was in the dining-room and 
informed me that dinner would be at a later hour. 
I looked at the table and saw that it was laid for 
a feast. Rows of wine glasses, bell-shaped, decreas- 
ing in size from the tall champagne glass to the 
tiny liqueur thimble, stood before each plate. 
Orchids raised their showy heads above silver 
flower-bowls, grouped about a large, white wed- 
ding-cake. It neither suggested that a tremendous 
war was in progress at the front nor hinted that 
the Imperial ukase forbidding the sale of alcoholic 
drink had stirred the English Press to peans of 
praise. It is only just and true to remark that I 
never came across a single family or person of 
means outside the Tsar's household who obeyed 
that ukase. The prohibition was practised only 
by those who had no means or opportunity for 
doing otherwise, in the same way that the 
Soviet caste later on indulged freely in the wine 
of the bourgeois cellars they monopolized while 

^S7 



The Blue Steppes 

maintaining the prohibition for the common 
people. 

I asked Onofry what the feast was for. He 
beat the air with his hand and uttered some sort 
of stifled curse. 

" It is he ! " he said : " Stepan Ivanich. They 
have taken Claudia Grigorievna to be married. 
They say ' married '. Better they said ' buried '. 
Little she knows what she's about or what he's 
about either. But wait 1 I swear by the godkin 
in the corner he will sit in the galosh ! " (in the 
soup !). 

He turned to the ikon in the corner of the room 
and crossed himself. 

" I have lived to old age, but not to such 
stupidity. Never were there such things in this 
house in master's time. Women ! Yes, three at a 
time. A merry one was the dead master. He 
sinned. But never this ! A mad old woman, 
and in the name of the Father, the Son and the 
Holy Ghost ! Never this abomination ! The 
dead one never married at law." 

He muttered sullenly, shifting about the table 
and arranging the things. 

Having arranged to go with a friend to see 
Tolstoy's Fruits of 'Enlightenment^ I took a snack 
and went off into the snowy night. When I 
returned the feast was over. At least, as far as 
the " bride and bridegroom " were concerned. 
Russian marriages usually take place in the 
evening and the happy couple retire to their 
room soon after their health has been drunk. 

158 



The House in the Horse guards' Alley 

In this case they had retired to Aunt Chiudia's 
flat downstairs. 

Next morning I went into the dining-room for 
breakfast about eight o'clock and was surprised to 
find the entire household out of bed. They were 
talking wildly and gesticulating. From their happy 
faces I gathered that something very agreeable 
had entered their lives. Madame Vadimsky was 
there in her kimono, nursing Petrushka and kissing 
him occasionally as though she could not help 
venting her happiness on some fondling or other. 
My advent was greeted by a general shout of 
" NashU ! " (found !). 

" What's found ? " I asked, wondering at all the 
excitement. 

" The picture of the Kazan Virgin," they 
replied. 

Stepan Piatko, I saw, was the hero of the hour. 
Bottles of champagne stood on the table and 
glasses were constantly filled. 

I sat down and heard the story from Stepan 
Piatko himself. He seemed infinitely pleased with 
himself. 

" It was the only way to get hold of it," he 
said, showing me the little oblong card with the 
picture of the Virgin. " I guessed she must have 
had it somewhere about her person because she 
never would let anyone come near her when she 
undressed at night. The ' marriage ' went off 
all right. During the night I gathered up her 
clothes and searched them. The picture was 
actually sewn up in the lining of her body-warmer. 

159 



The Blue Steppes 

But it's no good as evidence. Look at it. It is 
all torn and splashed with ink. No one can make 
out what it means." 

I looked at the card and saw that the hand- 
writing had been scratched and obliterated. 
Whether Stepan Piatko had taken that precaution, 
it was hard to say. It was so filthy, one hated to 
touch it even. Anyhow, Stepan Piatko didn't 
destroy it now that it was in his possession, but 
smilingly declared that it would be faithfully 
preserved in order to prove that Aunt Claudia's 
picture of the Virgin had no more chance of being 
accepted as the will and last testament of the late 
M. Vadimsky than any other scrap of paper 
scribbled with hieroglyphics. 

The card was duly handed over to Madame 
Vadimsky's lawyers and the ne'er-do-well Peter 
immediately informed of the collapse of his case. 

Madame Vadimsky went about with a radiant 
smile that morning. But not for long. She 
had arranged for a gypsy fortune-teller to call 
and tell her something about her future. I 
fancy she was very anxious to bring the Grand 

Duke S to some sort of declaration of his 

intentions. 

The dark, hideous old gypsy, smelling rankly of 
camp fire, told her that she must beware of a 
fair enemy. This gave her much cause for agi- 
tated thinking. She could think of no fair enemy 
1 60 



The House in the Horseguards^ Alley 

she knew. The problem, however, soon solved 
itself. 

About half-past two the same afternoon, a 
sumptuous motor-car drew up at the front door. 
I was just going out at the time and caught sight 
of a very pink, scintillating beauty, wrapped in 
ermine, sitting inside the car. A grave young 
footman got out from the front to open the door 
for her. I saw her pass over the snowy pave- 
ment, buoyant, fluffy, and light as an Easter 
chicken. She seemed to irradiate the charm of 
feminine softness. I still remember vividly the 
flash of her eyes and teeth as she smilingly 
alighted. . . . 

When I returned for tea, I was informed that 
Madame Vadimsky was seriously ill and had taken 
to her bed. There had been a terrible scene in 
the Rococo boudoir. From one or the other of 
the family I gathered that the strange, fair visitor 
was no other than the actress, Madame Tinska, 
who lived in a beautiful palace on the banks of 
the Neva near the Winter Palace. Wliatever had 
she come to seek for at the house in the Horse- 
guards' Alley ? A simple affair ! The doctor 
fiance of Madame Vadimsky 's widowed sister told 
me all about it. 

Madame Tinska had arrived for the purpose of 
explanations. She had heard that the Grand Duke 

S had been carrying on an intrigue with 

Madame Vadimsky and had come with an iron 

determination to put things right. She could not 

allow the Grand Duke to open up new avenues of 

L i6i 



The Blue Steppes 

adventure while she was his mistress. She would 
be sole possessor of his affections or not at all. 
Madame Vadimsky had felt greatly offended. 
She had revolted against the insinuation that the 

Grand Duke S treated or intended to treat 

her as his mistress. Her own, and she trusted his, 
intentions had been honest all along. Then 
Madame Tinska had laughed at the idea that the 
Grand Duke could possibly have " honest " bour- 
geois intentions. It was forbidden by the State ! 
There had been a scene. Tempers had risen and 
voices had been raised. The climax was reached 
when Madame Tinska, goaded on by jealousy, 
seized a signed photograph of her Grand-ducal 
lover, which she happened to catch sight of on 
the writing table, and tore it into shreds. After 
that, the jealous mistress fled from the house, beside 
herself. . . . 

The ringing of the front door bell announced 
the arrival of the Grand Duke himself for his 
afternoon visit. When he was shut in with Madame 
Vadimsky, who for the purpose of receiving him 
had left her bed for the divan in the Rococo 
boudoir, there began a great exercise in tiptoeing 
on the part of the household. They walked 
about in breathless silence, almost as though they 
feared to hear themselves breathe. Their agitated 
state of mind evidently hindered them from sitting 
down. Moreover, the anxiety of Stepan Piatko 
constantly led him down the corridor in the 
direction of the boudoir door, where he would 
remain mysteriously silent, returning at intervals 
162 



The House In the Horseguards' Alley 

on tiptoe to the dining-room and making 
nervous signs of irritation to those who ventured 
to ask in bated breath what turn the interview 
had taken. 

I went about my business long before the 
household recovered their voices and soles. 

Like the passage of a great ocean liner bound 
for a far goal, the Grand Duke's visit left behind 
a foaming pathway in the cloven waters of Madame 
Vadimsky and her household's spirit. The blow 
struck by the irate mistress was soon followed by 
that of the Grand Duke. He could offer no 
more than " love ", pure and simple, without 
any reference to ceremonies outside his Imperial 
caste. 

Poor Madame Vadimsky, always so kind and 
gentle, stood this last blow bravely. The visit of 
the irate mistress had prostrated her. That of the 
Grand Duke, however, more aistressing in its 
consequences, seemed to fill her with bracing 
resolution. Perhaps it had settled at last the 
haunting doubts and indecisions that had cast such 
an enervating shadow over her spirit. She must 
have felt free, for the next day she signified her 
intention to Count de Luze of accepting his proposal 
to become his wife. 

As for the ex-husband, who threatened to make 
himself a nuisance, he was removed by the 
stroke of his own hand. He arrived as usual 

the morning after the Grand Duke S 's fatal 

visit and v^'as told the nature of the latter's 
proposal. Indignation rose in the man like a 

163 



The Blue Steppes 

storming passion. He would not allow his "wife" 
to be insulted ! He would give his last drop 
of blood to wipe out the insult ! She was the 
mother of his son ! 

So great was his anger that Madame Vadimsky 
feared to tell him of her decision to become 
Countess de Luze. She trembled to think 
what the infuriated ex-husband would do. He 
implored her to re-marry him, but she gently 
declined and shut herself up in her boudoir. 
Lashed to fury, the man waited about the 
yard until the Grand Duke arrived to pay his 
court and renew his persuasions. When he 
arrived, the ex-husband sprang out from behind 
a stack of logs and struck him a blow on the 
cheek. 

" That's for your insult to my wife ! " he cried 
out. *' I challenge you to a duel ! " 

Duelling was a common occurrence among hus- 
bands and lovers. It will be remembered that the 
elder brother of Prince Felix YousoupofF was 
shot dead in such a duel just before the war. In 

this case, however, the Grand Duke S simply 

had the ex-husband arrested and sent to the army 
in the Caucasus. 

Going into the house after this little affray, he 
was met by Stepan Piatko, who coldly informed 
him that Madame Vadimsky had decided to 
become the Countess de Luze, leaving him 
standing. 

And so she did a few days later, budding out 
into one of the sweetest, kindest and most appre- 
164 



\ 



The House in the Horse guards^ Alley 

dative patronesses of rising talent that ever graced 
Society. 

Peter Vadimsky no longer entertaining designs 
on the flat I had been asked to occupy and my 
affairs calling me elsewhere, I left the house in 
the Horseguards' Alley, taking with me this 
unwithering bunch of memories. 



■65 



Chapter XI 

A GARDEN OF EDEN 

WHEN THE GREAT TIDE of liberty and 
eloquence was surging about the founda- 
tions of the State and Kerensky was feeding 
the nation with stars, I took a trip to the Crimea. 
It was in June 19 17. Seeing the chaos into which 
the country w^as sinking through the prating 
idealism and pathetic humanitarianism of the 
Socialists, I made every possible effort to get away 
to England. The dislocation of the ways of 
communication, however, prevented me from get- 
ting beyond the Finnish frontier. The British 
Consul in Petrograd told me that if I cared to 
wait long enough I might get a berth on a ship 
from Archangel, but for the time being every- 
thing was reserved for military and diplomatic 
persons. 

" Take a holiday in the Crimea," he said. 
" I will let you know by telegram when there's a 
chance of getting a ship." 

Accordingly, I gathered up my goods and left 
for the south. I had a young Moscow friend, 
who was staying with his uncle at a villa near 
166 



A Garden of Eden 

Yalta, so I felt happy at tlie prospect of finding 
friends. 

The train journey of a tliousand miles was 
slow and tedious. Congestion reigned on the 
railways as everywhere else. For hours at a stretch 
it was impossible to get out of one's coupe without 
a struggle, warring with sheep-skinned peasants, 
exuding soldiers, and the usual garrulous army of 
chinovnicks on their annual trek to the country or 
the sea. 

Indescribable were the scenes of disorder and 
confusion. As usual in Russia, everyone had 
brought the greatest possible amount of cumbersome 
luggage into the coupes and corridors. 

Before the war, during my travels in Germany, 
the natives would always refer to confusion and 
disorder as " Polish management ", in Poland 
they would call it " Russian management ", and 
going further East, I found the Russians called it 
'' Chinese management ". I suppose the Chinese 
have also some favourite way of fastening their 
contempt on the shoulders of their Eastern 
neighbours. 

Here, at least, was a sight for the nether gods. 
A schoolmaster with his wife and three children 
had brought into the coupe five large pillows 
and blankets, two teapots and a kettle, various 
hampers containing cooking utensils and crockery, 
bed linen and clothes, boots and shoes tied together 
like onions, overcoats, large and small, tied round 
with a rope, and what annoyed one more than all, 
a family bath ! The wretched thing w^as rolled 

167 



The Blue Steppes 

in and held in position between the opposite 
seats by one of the boys, a *' gymnasist " in a 
black uniform and peaked casquet, who beguiled 
the time by beating out a melancholy tattoo on 
the tin bottom almost the whole of the journey. 

" Why do you want to take a bath with you 
when you are going to the sea ? " I asked, some- 
where in the middle of the endless plain. 

" That's for my wife," he said. " You see, 
she is ' grosse ' and of course it wouldn't do for 
her to bathe in the open. We can carry the water 
up to the cottage." 

*' But couldn't you hire a bath down there," I 
asked. " There must be lots of baths for hire, 
besides private establishments." 

He gave a contemptuous toss with his thin, bald 
head. 

" What ! Pay for someone else's bath, when I 
have my own ! What nonsense ! " 

Unfortunately, it was the general sentiment 
outside the aristocracy. Only those who have seen 
the inside of a Russian railway station can realize 
what it led to. To make matters worse there 
was no forwarding company like Carter Paterson, 
and when the Americans attempted to set up 
an express delivery company in Russia, they 
were for some unknown reason debarred by the 
Government. 

At Kharkov a woman got in with a coffin 
covered with silver paint, put the lid on top of 
the bundles on the rack and stood with the grue- 
some object outside in the congested corridor. 
i68 



A Garden of Eden 

When the conductor squeezed his way along, 
picking up tips here and there in accordance with 
the well-known maxim of the Russian railways : 
*' no protest, no tip ", he blinked at the woman 
with the coffin. 

*' What's this, if you please ? " he asked in a 
voice of pretended surprise. 

" An evident matter ! " the woman replied, 
tugging at her black kerchief and fastening it 
tight under her red chin. '* Even a hen wouldn't 
have to look twice to see whether it was a popcorn." 

Sitting in my coupe, I couldn't help laughing 
in secret. These lashing answers were the speci- 
ality of the country in all classes. In educated 
and aristocratic circles, they rather shocked, but 
coming from hags and merry market-wives they 
had a racy flavour of the soil. 

" This — er " the conductor stuttered. " This 

must be taken out of the way. It is against the 
rules of the company." 

" Indeed ! " rejoined the woman. " There is 
nothing for you to oppress the people for. Not 
for you is the coffin, brother, though one day you 
will want one yourself. Why do you oppress the 
people ? Yourself, you ride all day long and 
then you are not content. The others you perse- 
cute, tliough they would only ride as far as the 
litde finger. Unconscionable ! Where is your 
conscience, persecutor ? " 

The babbling woman went on without stopping, 
till the conductor beat the air with his hand as a 
sign of hopelessness and passed on. 

169 



The Blue Steppes 

At Sinelnikov a company of women soldiers of 
the Death Battalion were waiting at the station. 
They were a very inspiring sight, except for their 
broad breeches and high-heeled shoes. But they 
carried themselves manfully, shouldering their rifles 
and marching up and down the sandy platform 
with parade-day trimness. The sergeant-majoress 
was an obese lady with rather portly bearing, 
but she made up for this defect with a most 
invidious eye, a tossed-back, close-cropped head 
and a booming voice. 

" Naza-a-ahd ! " she shouted to the marching 
soldieresses [soldatki), thrusting out a chin, which 
I'm afraid was rather telescopic. 

The soldieresses swung round with great pre- 
cision and smartness, though one couldn't help 
noticing that it was not their rifles that got in the 
way but their hips. 

Standing along the platform watching these 
operations were groups of peasant women. They 
made no scruple of venting their views. 

" Daughters of Hades ! " I heard one baba call 
out, spitting on the ground. "They couldn't wait 
till their husbands came home. They go, the 
shameless ones, to make love to the Germans. 
'Tis man's job to fight, baba's to love." 

" They go in order to fall prisoners to the 
Germans," another woman cried out, falling on 
to her sack of potatoes by way of illustration. 

The chorus of disapproval was taken up vio- 
lently all along the line, by the men especially. 
Yet it was because of the failure of the men and 
170 



A Garden of Eden 

the breakdown of the patriotic spirit that these 
brave women had undertaken to set an example of 
fearlessness. They were going down to the July 
offensive of the Russian Army in Galicia which 
the Kerensky Government had at last found tardy 
courage to allow. 

At Simpheropol I left the train and spent the 
night at an hotel, where for the first time it was 
announced that the Professional Union of Waiters 
had decided to forbid the acceptance of tips. 
Perhaps that accounted for the unusual size of 
the bill, for they charged me thirty shillings for a 
small bedroom in a stucco hotel, with no sheets 
to the bed ! Travellers were expected to have 
their own. 

Simpheropol lies at the foot of the Crimean 
hills. From there one was obliged to hire a 
motor-car or buy a place in the diligence. It 
had been the intention of the Tsars to keep the 
Crimea free from all innovations that would spoil 
its charms. Accordingly no railways were allowed 
to be constructed except to Sebastopol at one end 
of the peninsula and to Theodosia at die other. 
Jews also had been forbidden to enter this little 
garden of Eden, but with the downfall of Tsardom 
they were flocking in from all directions. 

" How much did you pay for your pince-nez ? " 
one of them asked as I took my seat in one of the 
motor-cars that plied between Simpheropol and 
Yalta. 

" The Germans will win this war," he went on 
afterwards, carrying on that intense pro-German 

171 



The Blue Steppes 

propaganda which was the work of the Russian 
Jews during the war. In this, however, they 
were seconded by many Poles, and by the Tartars, 
Finns and other nationalities in Russia. It seemed 
as though the poor Russians themselves had lost 
their voice, their head, their nationality and their 
country. After a drive of about forty miles through 
olive groves and vineyards, we came in sight of 
the sea, having mounted gradually to the top of a 
high plateau. There were thick woods here and 
it was cool and refreshing to drive along in the 
leafy shade after the hot stretches of dusty, boulder- 
bounded roads. During the journey I saw a 
strange sight. The ruts in the road went on in 
regular lines for miles and in one of them I saw 
what seemed to be a gigantic white post walking 
along the road. As we came nearer in the motor- 
car, we saw that it was moving along very swiftly. 
At night it would have looked just like a fantastic 
ghost. We saw at last that it was a column of 
white dust about twenty feet high and two feet 
broad twirling round and round with incredible 
swiftness and rushing along in the groove of a 
cart rut. We drove alongside this extraordinary 
phenomenon for miles and it was still rushing 
forward when we lost it from sight. The strangest 
part of all was that there was hardly any breeze at all. 
We passed through many a Tartar village, saw 
slippered Mohammedans and women in airy 
trouser-bags, and topping the brow of the hill 
descended to the sea-board at Gurzuf. Then 
began a pleasant journey along the coast through 
172 



A Garden of Eden 

sandy roads, past pleasant villas set in the midst of 
roses, magnolias, cypresses and odorous shrubs, 
till we came to Yalta, nesding with its golden- 
domed churches and white houses at the foot of a 
superbly upright sweep of wooded hills. 

From here I was rushed on to Novo-Semeis, a 
small resort that lay in a secluded bend of the 
coast. The sky was intensely blue, the rays of 
the blinding sun beating down on the white road, 
the white villas and white-clothed people, till 
everything seemed like a long white blur. Only 
the tall cypresses, now rising up dark against 
the hilly background, now standing with inviting 
coolness against the shimmering mirror of the 
sea, splashed the scene with a relieving black. The 
air was full of the scent of roses and flowering 
shrubs, heavy with the burning breath of the sun 
and the exudations of the scorched trees, the 
slight salty tang of the sea. Sunburnt Tartars 
galloped by on their thick-set horses, their red 
tassels bobbing in the breezeless air, their white 
teeth gleaming, their dark eyes afire. Handsome 
women, clad in light dresses, showing an abundance 
of sunburnt skin, galloped at the sides of the 
Tartars, laughing and chattering. 

I drove up to the Villa Sidorski and was effu- 
sively welcomed by my friend and his relations. 
The villa stood just on the edge of a cliff and 
caught the sunhght even when the rest of the 
place was wrapt in the shadow of the overhanging 
hills. There was a balcony attached to the room 
assigned to me. Stepping out on to it in order to 

173 



The Blue Steppes 

view the sea and village, I was agreeably surprised 
to see the national Russian flag flying from several 
house-tops. It was the first time I had seen the 
old flag since the February revolution. I must 
confess it was a great relief to get away from the 
ubiquitous red flag, which was already beginning 
to stink in the nostrils of all decent beings. I was 
told that a patriotic society was holding a sports 
meeting for some charity purpose, so, wishing to 
add to the glory of the show, I took out my silk 
Union Jack and tied it on to the pillar of the 
balcony. Some time later a couple of frowsy 
individuals calling themselves the president and 
delegate of the local Soviet came to know what 
enemy flag it was. When told it was British, they 
declared it should be taken down, as Britain was a 
bourgeois, reactionary country and the cause of 
the economic breakdown in Russia by insisting on 
carrying on the war to a victorious end. 

" We are all brothers now," the president 
declared. '' W^'ve no need to fight the Germans. 
We must fight Capitalism now." 

Fight Capitalism ! With the Germans at the 
door and a famine already creeping over the 
plains of Russia owing to disorganization. Yet 
here was this great mind ready to open the gates 
to the enemy and complete the wreck of organized 
society. Perhaps he has now grown up in wisdom, 
having seen his unhappy country lose more th n 
twenty millions of people by famine and slaughter. 
Brotherhood and the destruction of Capitalism ! 
What a mockery the words seem after one has 

174 



A Garden of Eden 

seen the picture. But at that time everything 
was hinged on visions and propaganda, poured out 
day after day in the Socialist and Communist 
Press. No doubt he had just been devouring 
Lenin's newspaper. Anyhow, I told him that 
my flag would remain there until he came to take 
it down himself, but having no crowd to support 
him in those parts, he withdrew with his companion. 

Near the Villa Sidorski was a large establish- 
ment called DolnikofF, a sort of hotel with spacious 
grounds. In the evening, when the sun had 
gone down behind the hills, people would flock 
into the large drawing-room to be amused by the 
celebrities who were staying there. Shaliapine 
would come along to sing. He lived along the 
coast and had just succeeded in killing a burglar 
who climbed into his bedroom. This event must 
have had an agitating effect upon his temper, for 
he flooded the drawing-room and the rose-covered 
terrace with such terrific rolls of sound that it was 
a relief to hide in the cavern under the sea-wall 
and listen to him from that seclusion. Floating 
rhythmically through the scented atmosphere, his 
songs would then seem like a Cyclopean singing 
heard in a dream. And when the moon rose 
resplendent over the waters, spinning along, golden 
carpet down to one's very feet, it seemed as though 
one stood at the entrance to a palace of enchantment. 

Another celebrity was Rachmaninoff. Unfortu- 
nately, all the aspirants to musical fame in the 
neighbourhood used to crash out his " Prelude " 
on their pianos into the grand morning air with 

^7S 



The Blue Steppes 

such persistence that the unfortunate composer 
could never be induced to play it. His only wish 
was to forget that he had ever composed a line. 

Drozdoff, the pianist, however, used to give 
excellent performances and did not refuse even 
to play the piano while the various young ballet 
dancers showed off their talents before their admir- 
ing mammas and friends and the general public. 
Whenever one went to the drawing-room one 
was certain to hear the tap-tap-tap of some pretty 
girl of ten or twelve practising Pavlova's " Swan's 
Death " on the tips of her toes and flapping her 
sinuous arms with mournful solemnity, while a 
poor down-trodden governess picked out Saint 
Saens " Chant de Cigne " on the piano. 

Madame Germanova, a celebrated Russian actress 
of the classic school, would entertain us with 
renderings of poetry. The tragic Muse was always 
heavy on her breast and she excelled in making 
one feel quite miserable. But she did it with 
such consummate art that one felt grateful to her. 

Boating, bathing, tennis, and excursions on 
Tartar horses filled the daytime. There were 
ancient monasteries and relics of Genoese and 
Venetian civilization to be visited. 

As for the people, their manners were as interest- 
ing as their morals. Of the younger generation 
hardly one couple had the husband or wife they 
arrived with. The elder people seemed still to 
retain a certain respect for the conventions, though 
evincing a perfect indifference to the actions of 
the younger people. 
176 



A Garden of Kden 

Madame Olga Novikoff once said of herself : 
" I am a nihilist so far as conventionalities are 
concerned," '^ and in that, she voiced the basic 
sentiment of the nation. She also wrote : " There 
was in Russia a great tendency towards childishly 
extreme views. . . . Agnosticism and Positivism 
seemed more in accordance with ' the latest dictum 
of science ', as they used to term it. Katkoff, the 
political writer, saw at a glance that such Radicalism 
could only bring his country to the verge of ruin. 
He seemed to foresee the nihilistic movement 
which came later, not in Russia only, but in the 
whole world, and it grieved and frightened him, 
because he knew his country well. Reckless, self- 
sacrificing Russians never stop half-way. You 
often see people, both in England and Germany, 
without any religious or moral belief ; but they 
are kept in good order, and are harmless in their 
intercourse with others, simply because they are 
checked by all sorts of imaginary powers — be it 
Mrs. Grundy, be it the craving for respectability, 
or the prejudices of the upper ten. We Russians 
never kneel to deities of that kind. We must 
have something solid, a religious * categorical 
imperative ', as the Germans say," 

This latter, however, as most of us recognize, 
took the form of the knout in Russia for many 
years. As for religious imperatives, they had 
disappeared entirely among the intelligentsia since 
the writing of that article in 1887 (December 17th 
and 2 1 St, Pall Mall Gazette). All had been swept 

I The M.P.for Russia y vol. i. p. 4. 
M 177 



The Blue Steppes 

away as '' prejudice " and " relics of superstition ". 
Here, in the Crimea, the result of this decay was 
thrust upon one on all sides. The sea, the sands, 
the rocks, cypresses, heavy-scented shrubs and rose- 
twined walks were as a garden of Eden where the 
Fallen State seemed to run amok. 

I will not describe these things, for fire and 
brimstone have fallen upon Russia, while the 
Bolshevists have made this hideous amorality and 
anti-conventionality the basis of their system. 
They have abolished " bourgeois " morality and 
prejudices, but the intelligentsia had abolished 
them in practice long before. 

In the Crimea the wave of sex-communism and 
contempt for the conventions reached its most 
revolting height. 

One could hardly believe that these were edu- 
cated people, members of the aristocracy, the 
bureaucracy, the professions. Whom the gods 
will destroy, they first deprive of reason, has been 
only too true of unhappy Russia. 

The " love " idea prevailing among the Russian 
intelligentsia is well illustrated in a poem by Igor 
Sievieryanin, a popular poet. His heroine declares : 

"I'm in love with Love, though not believing in it. 
I seek for Him, not knowing Him. 
He doesn't exist, and yet He is in every man. 
A lover goes away — it is no loss : 
Already another comes along. 
After laughter, sadness. After sadness, laughter. 
Pretence alone is sin. Sin itself is sinless. 
Convention ? — 'Tis nothing but a halter 
For a she-ass. But freedom is always a joy." 

178 



A Garden of Eden 

I might have felt soniewliat terrified in this 
ghastly garden of Eden, but the greatest shock of 
all was when one of the best known British consuls 
arrived, having deserted his Russian wife and 
taken up with the wife of a Russian General. He 
was a man with a grown up family and bordering 
on sixty, I felt thoroughly ashamed of him. 
But my sentiments w^re to receive a yet harder 
blow, for when the Bolshevists got into powder 
and they arrested one night the British repre- 
sentatives (Sir George Buchanan had left long 
before), they announced in Izvietiya that they 
found this British establishment overrun with 
orgiastic revellers. 

The atmosphere of Russia seemed to infect all 
comers. 

Charming princesses would come to the Crimea 
in order to have love intrigues with the handsome 
Tartar men, who usually escorted them on their 
galloping white horses to the hills and valleys 
about the coast. These men were tall and sun- 
burnt, strongly built and with well-cut features, 
white, perfect teeth and fiery eyes. The charming 
Russian women admired them without stinting. 
Their greatest praise was summed up in the phrase 
one heard on all sides : '* African blood ". 

At the Villa Sidorski there came to stay a Russian 
sailor. He was serving on one of the battleships 
cruising about the Black Sea and had obtained a 
few days' leave. He was a man of about forty, 
handsome and black-bearded. Although he had 
enlisted as a plain sailor in the Russian Navy, he 

179 



The Blue Steppes 

was a man of great wealth. His son and mistress 
were staying at the villa. The son was about 
eighteen, while the mistress had been his mother's 
sewing-maid. The mother had gone off with 
some other woman's husband, as was the great 
fashion, and the father had gone off with the maid. 
The revolution came and the father entered the 
Navy for some obscure reason. Now the maid was 
installed mensa et thoro, though without benefit of 
clergy, but in all things taken into the world as an 
equal. What did the world say ? Nothing! What 
could it say when everyone was doing the same ? 

After a stay of about ten days, Andrey Lvoff, 
the sailor-millionaire, went back to his ship at 
Yalta and his eighteen-year-old son, a tall, hefty 
fellow with horse-like jaws and bones, made love to 
his father's mistress. 

Marya Ivanovna was her name. She had fair 
hair and beady eyes, laughed after every word 
she uttered and snuffled her nose like a rabbit ! 
She knocked at my door one evening and walked 
in boldly, her white heels tapping on the polished 
pine floor. There was a terrific thunderstorm 
going on outside. The lightning flamed blue and 
purple over the shrouded hills, the thunder cracked 
and boomed all around with Vulcanic fury. It 
was dark on the wind-lashed water, the clouds 
swelling earthwards like heavy black sails. 

" Let me come and talk to you," she said, 
coming towards the window of the balcony where 
I stood watching the storm. "Jhootko!" (it's 
ghastly). 
i8o 



A Garden of Eden 

She pointed to the raging storm and sat down on 
the edge of the bed. 

" Here's a deck chair," I said, bringing one in 
from the balcony. 

She threw herself into the chair as though she 
no longer had the power to hold herself up. 

" This awful storm," she went on in a voice 
that squeaked from the top of her throat. All her 
former exuberance of laughter had deserted her. 
" He's out there on the ship, Andrey Fomich 
Lvoff, I mean, my husband." 

She turned her wedding-ring round on her 
finger contemplatively, though it was common 
knowledge they had never been married at law. 
But what of that ? Freedom was the new gospel. 

" A sailor's life," I replied, watching the sea. 
" A few ups and downs are to be expected. It 
will go by." 

" All the same, it's ghastly," she rejoined mourn- 
fully. *' It lies heavy on the soul. And there's 
Vassili (the eighteen-year-old son of her ' hus- 
band '). He pesters me all the time. Dersky 
takoi ! (audacious one). I slapped his face, but 
still he pesters, more than ever. I said to him : 
* How are you not ashamed ? insolent cub ! ' 
But he : ' Is that how you talk to Andrey Fomich, 
baba ? ' And he pesters me still more audaciously. 
One wants to weep almost. ' How are you not 
ashamed ? ' I said. ' What would your father 
say ? ' And he, audacious one : ' Did he say 
anything when he left my mother for you ? ' I 
was angry. The insult was such. ' And your 

i8i 



The Blue Steppes 

mother,' I said. * Hasn't she gone with another ? 
Am I not the same as she ? What is to be said ? 
We are lovers.' He glared. Jhootko ! Such eyes 
and such strength ! He seized me by the arm. 
It hurt. ' And now, we shall be lovers too ! ' 
he said. I cried for pain and slapped his face. 
Akh ! What violence is in the world ! " 

She covered her face with her hands and sighed. 
Then she got up and went to the balcony to 
breathe the fresh air. 

" Look ye," she said, resting her arm against 
the closed half of the French windows. " I want 
to talk to you. From the warm soul. You seem 
to me sympathetic, a decent one. Not like us 
Russians, always turning things inside out. Tell 
me. W^hat do you think ? How can I arrange 
myself ? With Andrey Fomich, I mean. I love 
him. He loves me, painfully loves me. But he 
does not marry me. ' That,' he said, ' is past 
game. Superstition. Prejudice. Now there is 
free love. The rest is all dust-covered, out of 
date.' How can I arrange myself? I implored 
him. He would not hear. But I. . . . They 
say I am old-fashioned. New fashions are new 
fashions, but somehow, I like the old. Look 
now ! I wanted to wear a ring. He gave me 
one. ' But in church,' I said. ' In the old- 
fashioned way.' * Nobody marries now like that,' 
he said. * Now is free love. Thou lovest, thou 
livest. The matter is finished.' And so, he would 
not. But I kept the ring. Now what do you 
think ? Artful am I. I have a child. It is 
182 



A Garden of Eden 

three months gone. I have not told him. But I 
must. I am full of hope. I will make him 
marry me in the old-fashioned way, before the 
priest or the law. Do you think he will be angry .? 
Leave me ? . . ." 

The storm raged on and the woman's palpi- 
tating battle of hope and fear continued unabated. 
\Miat could I do .'' I just listened, listened, waiting 
for the time when she would grow tired and seek 
other ears. 

Somehow I realized that her aspirations were 
the last flickering glimmer of the old Christian 
soul of Russia, fast dying under the burning blasts 
of the *' emancipated " Communistic age. Before 
the Bolshevists seized power, the intelligentsia 
had reduced the bonds of marriage to an absurdity 
in actual life. The Bolshevists reduced them to an 
absurdity at law, in the same way as they decreed 
the abolition of money by inflating the rouble to 
the point of worthlessn ess. 

W hen I returned to Moscow from this garden 
of Eden, Lenin was already establishing this 
emancipated world with bombs. 



.83 



Chapter XII 

THE HOMES OF THE MIGHTT 
(PETROGRAD) 

COUNT CL^M^TIEFF. Whisper the 
name to a Russian and he will understand 
more than if you had read him a chapter of 
Russian history. In fact, Count Clemetieff's illus- 
trious ancestor was a great general in Peter the 
Great's adventurous campaigns. When one entered 
his palace on the French Quay in Petrograd, one 
stood near to the acme of European refinement 
and culture. Footmen, tall and stately, waited at 
the lofty entrance and were as mellow in manner 
as any Great Britain could boast. ApoUos and 
Venuses gleamed white from their elevated posi- 
tions and Renaissance beauties offered their rosy 
exuberances and grapes from the high, tapestried 
walls. Nor in this heaven of fine art were lacking 
the best works of modern Russian painters and 
sculptors, though nothing gross and Epsteinesque 
was allowed to mar the flight of the admiring eye 
towards the eternal beauty of the human mind in 
its efforts to express the ideal. The products of 
184 



The Homes of the Mighty {Petrograd) 

the fine art of ugliness were left to be acquired 
by unrefined profiteers and exuberant Asiatics, or 
to repose in museums of curiosities. As Count 
Clemetiefi^ himself explained when I congratu- 
lated him on his exquisite taste : *' I will have 
nothing in my house that I cannot feel I could 
live with eternally. We become like the things we 
admire. Mere antiquities and modern ' Grau- 
samkeiten ', I leave to the museums of curiosi- 
ties." And naturally, after such a lofty speech, 
I wondered what his wife was like. 

In the vast library reaching to the roof of the 
palace, rare books and literary treasures were 
stored, wMe a brass engraving attached to the 
wall commemorated the various visits to the library 
by emperors and kings. 

A beautiful private chapel was situated on the 
top floor and mellow-toned bells rang for vespers 
or mass from a turret. In the reading-room all 
the best English journals lay in rows on the table, 
and the only soap recognized in this very selective 
establishment was Pears. 

When I saw Countess Clemetieff for the first 
time, I found her in perfect keeping with the 
spirit of the house. Fair, handsome and quiet- 
mannered, though with an abundance of wit and 
restful self-control, she had a peaceful English 
atmosphere of which she was very proud. Her 
family had been brought up by English governesses 
for generations. A thorough knowledge of lan- 
guages was considered obligatory on all members 
of the upper classes and for this purpose children 

i8s 



The Blue Steppes 

were given into the hands of English and French 
governesses almost from birth. In this way the 
upper classes spoke foreign languages with wonder- 
ful ease and correctness, whereas the ordinary 
Russian, left to the desultory instruction of the 
schools, showed no more aptitude for foreign 
languages than a Frenchman. 

The preferences of the Court lay towards the 
English tongue for intimate use and Countess 
Clemetieff showed the same leaning in educating 
her children. She had, however, employed, when 
they were young, a Frenchwoman, who had 
afterwards married an Armenian, repented very 
soon of this step, and fled for protection to her 
generous ex-employer with endless lamentations on 
the Oriental baseness of the Armenian male. She 
had been received back into the house with open 
arms and had assumed the role of indispensable 
guardian of the destinies of the entire household. 
Unlike so many highly cultivated French people 
one met with in Russia, she showed an extra- 
ordinary animosity towards everything English. 
Once, at a tea party at which the Grand Duchesses 
Olga and Tatiyana were present, she resented the 
praise bestowed by the latter on a little English 
girl of five or so, the daughter, I gathered, of Mr. 
Lindley, of the British Embassy. 

*' What a pretty child," the Grand Duchess 
exclaimed aside to some grown-ups. " I always 
admire the beauty of English children." 

Madame Adjhemian, as the Frenchwoman was 
called, rolled her dark eyes and exclaimed : 
i86 



The Homes oj the Mighty [Petrograd) 

" Mais, Altesse, la beautc Fran^aise, c'cst la bcaute 
celeste ! " 

*' Iln'y a pas de doute ! " the Grand Duchess 
replied. *' And all litde children come from 
heaven." 

Madame Adjhcmian's great delight was to get 
Russian members of the diplomatic service to 
relate their experiences of England. She had a 
sharp, ready, malicious tongue, which many Rus- 
sians, who are adepts in a certain bitter, iconoclastic 
cynicism, found much to their taste. On Sundays 
especially, or at any of the great luncheon parties 
given by Count and Countess Clemetieff on feast 
days, she used to set the ball of cynicism rolling. 
I remember on one occasion a certain Prince 
Drouki, who was attached to some diplomatic or 
military mission in London, holding forth to his 
end of the luncheon table on the comical codes of 
the British. He must have been unaware either 
that I knew Russian or that I was quite capable 
of hearing his outpourings while carrying on a 
conversation with my neighbour. Russians, it 
should be borne in mind, never consider them- 
selves under any obligation whatever towards a 
person with whom they have had an intrigue not 
exactly within the scope of legality. When they 
have finished with that person they will cry her 
name from the housetops and enlarge in a mixed 
public on all the intricacies of their experiences. 

*' Puritanism," Prince Drouki held forth, *' is 
never dead in England. About six months before 
I left I went to stay at a country house with 

187 



The Blue Steppes 

Mrs. Z , a remarkably fine woman with the 

figure of a first-class filly. Her head was fair, 
something like a Bianca Capelli, and she held it 
up in a fashion a little too voulu. Her ankles, 
however, were a disappointment — a little too broad. 
As for the rest. ..." 

He bunched his bejewelled fingers together and, 
lifting up his hand, threw his fingers open, at the 
same time screwing up his thick lips and making a 
noise like a kiss. 

" Persik ! " (a peach), he said, and looked about 
him with a large display of happiness on his 
massive features. 

" I motored down to the country house on 
Friday evening, had dinner, and played bridge 

afterwards with Mrs. Z , her husband and 

another woman. Mrs. Z wore a beautiful 

pink crepe de chine robe, carried a pink peony 
at her waist, and never stopped waving her hand 
through the air. Above her wedding-ring she 
wore a very fine emerald, an oblong stone like a 
crystallized caterpillar. There is a secret under- 
standing among the English upper classes that if 
a woman wishes to open an intrigue with a man, 
she attracts his attention to the outstanding jewel on 
her finger by waving it before him artfully, laying 
her hand on his arm or placing her finger on her 
lips meditatively. One has to be in the country some 
time before one learns the intricacies of this lovers' 
language. I noticed the waving of the emerald 
ring, but didn't know at the time what it meant. 

" We went to our bedrooms about eleven o'clock. 
i88 



The Homes of the Mighty [Petrograd) 

I had just come back from the bathroom and was 
standing in my silk dressing-gown when I heard 
a tap at the door. I said : ' Come in ', thinking 
it was the manservant. The door opened and 

Mrs. Z (he gave the exact, very well-known 

name) entered. She wore embroidered yellow 
slippers and a silk kimono covered with humming 
birds and lotus flowers. Her beautiful hair was 
done in plaits down her back. ' Come right in ! ' 
I said. Ouite needless, however, for she was in 

C^ 7 7 

the room and locked the door before I could get 
the words out. ' So you understood my emerald 
message ? ' she said, holding up her dear little 
bejewelled hand for me to kiss. . . . 

" I left on the following Monday morning, 
having thanked my charming hostess for her most 
delightful entertainment. 

" About six months afterwards I was walking in 
Hyde Park and suddenly ran across Mrs. Z- 



She was as charming as ever, wore a green hobble 
skirt and carried a sunshade. She beamed on 
me as though she was delighted to see me again. 
I bent over her hand to kiss it, and, noticing the 
emerald ring, I said to her by way of a happy 
reminder : ' The dear little love-messenger ! Do 

you remember the happy times we had at B ? 

Will they ever come again ? ' To my utter 
astonishment she drew back suddenly, waved her 
green sunshade round with a violent sweep and 
snapped out : ' A gentleman never mentions those 
things.' And with that she turned and left me. 
There's a case of Puritanism ! " 

189 



The Blue Steppes 

The end of the table where he was holding court 
shook with merriment. 

" But if she had only known, she would have 
realized that all I remembered of her was the 
emerald ring and a little blue wart two inches from 
her hip. ..." 

Since my return to England I have seen Mrs. 
Z several times, seen, too, the emerald " love- 
messenger ", and wondered terribly whether she 
had any suspicion that I knew of the little blue 
wart two inches from the hip. I feel quite sure, 
however, that she has reformed and I hope there will 
be no flutter in the marital dovecotes of Mayfair, 
nor any undue searchings for a little blue wart. 

Other experiences were related by Prince Drouki 
with that total " emancipation " peculiar to Russia, 
but more I will not divulge. This one is sufficient 
to point its own moral. 

When I came back from the South of Russia 
and a visit to Count Clemetieff's estate, I found 
difficulty in getting a room at my hotel, which 
was full of officers. Count Clemetieff very kindly 
placed at my disposal a room in one of the houses 
adjoining his palace. He owned several houses 
round about where he offered accommodation to 
officers and friends arriving from the country or 
the front. I had just a few weeks to spare before 
setting out for England by a long and tedious 
journey through Finland, Sweden and Norway. I 
determined to see as much of the Russian Opera 
as I could and take a sip of the cup of revelry which 
was overflowing on all sides. 
190 



The Homes of the Mighty [Petrograd) 

The d;iy after I took up my residence in tlie 
house adjoining Count Clenietieif's palace, a beau- 
tiful lady appeared. She wore a war-nurse's grey 
costume with a wliite nun's-veiling over her head. 
It was in November 191 6. A powdering of 
snow lay on the roofs and whitened the tops of 
the street lamps. I had just had breakfast and 
was reading the Novoe Vremya by the drawing- 
room window, looking out occasionally at the ice- 
floes sailing down the Neva and leaping now and 
again on one another's backs in the strong current. 
A door somewhere down one of the numerous 
corridors of the house slammed, and shortly after the 
beautiful lady appeared. She tripped across the 
Aubusson carpet with little trim steps and a swirl of 
her grey alpaca skirt. Radiant and linnet-voiced, 
she burst in upon me with a battery of charm. 

*' Now look here ! you've got to make yourself 
thoroughly at home here. Don't stand on any 
Chinese ceremonies. Do exactly as you please and 
make yourself as cosy and happy as though you 
were in your own home or on your honeymoon. 
Akh ! " 

She sighed and turned to look out of the window 
at the ice-floes heralding the approach of winter and 
the freezing of the river. 

*' How time flies ! " she added, dropping into 
the chair I pulled up for her. She pointed to the 
large clock on a Louis XV bureau depicting a 
marble Apollo and Venus in mutual approach, 
while underneath was written in golden letters : 
" Carpe Diem ". 

191 



The Blue Steppes 

" Only nine o'clock," I said. " But whom 
have I the pleasure of addressing ? " 

She smiled and held out an elegant gold cigarette 
case with a delicate hand. 

" Have one," she said. " We shall be friends, 
I hope. I'm Count Clemetieff's daughter. You've 
already met my sister, haven't you ? I've been 
helping the British doctors that have come over. 
Wonderful men ! Strong, healthy, such muscles ! 
But oh ! they are all so much alike. Like peas. 
No soul ! no originality ! One always knows 
what they are going to say before they open their 
mouths. It must be very dull for their wives. 
Do they have wives, these shaven British ? Neither 
blood nor love seems to move them. Sometimes 
I think they haven't hearts of flesh and blood in 
their big breasts, but just iron pendulums like a 
grandfather's clock. Tick-tock ! You hear the 
beat but it has no soul, no life ! Akh ! One 
could die from such a life ! " 

I wondered why this outburst so early in the 
morning and so soon in our acquaintance. I 
knew she was married, from common knowledge, 
but saw that she wore no wedding-ring. 

" I suppose you will be leaving to join your 
husband," I said tentatively. 

" Him t Oh, he's down at the front. A dread- 
fully spoilt one ! He won't have me down there. 
Says I get in his way. He's twenty years older 
than me. Gaga already. No doubt he's having 
a merry time. They are all having a merry time 
in the rear of the army. Here in Petrograd, 
192 



The Homes oj the Mighty [Petrograd) 

too, it is merry. Everyone is making the most of 
life. One must. Time won't wait. Tick-tock, 
tick-tock, it goes on like an endless funeral march. 
But one must have courage. One must neither 
think of the past nor of the future. Just be merry 
to-day. That's all. Do you love Maeterlinck ? 
I adore him. He says it so well : 

" ' Les autres jours sont deja las, 
Les autres jours ont peur aussi, 
Les autres jours neviendront pas, 
Les autres jours mourront aussi. 
Nous aussi nous mourrons ici.' " 

'' I haven't read all his works," I declared. 

" Then you must," she replied, going to a 
small table and bringing back a green, calf-bound 
volume. '' Here are his poems." 

" Thank you, I will read them to-night," I 
replied. 

" To-night .? " she repeated. " What are you 
doing to-night ? " 

" I'm going to the opera." 

*' I'm going to the ballet, but you must come 
with me afterwards for the Islands. It's sure to 

be amusing. The Grand Dukes P and M 

and Prince Upoff will be there. Some wonderful 
Chinese jugglers are going to give a show and 
Caucasian dancers will perform. It's all at a 
beautiful villa on the Islands." 

Needless to say, I went. The Chinese jugglers 

juggled, the Caucasian dancers danced, the gypsy 

band twanged and sang their passionate songs, 

alternating love-lorn melancholy and dismal con- 

N 193 



The Blue Steppes 

templation of the grave with shouts of wild delight 
and fiery raptures. Waiters flitted about with 
champagne and the inevitable caviare. The Grand 
Dukes looked massively happy, smiled occasionally 
and talked without end. The pick of the evening 
was a dance by a dusky Tartar Siberian woman 
who wriggled about with two large snakes twined 
round her waist. 

Everything was done with tolerable decorum, 
the Grand Dukes were fairly reserved in their 
pawings of the two actresses they brought with 
them, holding their hands occasionally with 
tenderest devotion. One of them has since become 
a Grand Duchess, so that these fond caresses must 
have been symptoms of a genuine affection. 

I left about two o'clock and went home. Per- 
sonally, I should have been quite satisfied with 
attendance at the opera and a quiet reading 
before going to bed. But the cult of " wild 
sensations " was the vogue in Russia. 

During the night I was awakened by the sound 
of the bedroom door creaking. The room was in 
total darkness, so I was unable to discover who 
the intruder was. I heard footsteps coming towards 
the bed. Not being familiar with ghosts or house- 
breakers, I slipped out of bed by the side against 
the wall and hid underneath. 

Somebody patted the bed all over and then a 
woman's voice muttered : " There's a surprise. No 
doubt, he's already deceiving ! Who can it be ? " 

She went through a list of names, but being 
able to settle on none, gave up the task and retired. 
194 



The Homes of the Mighty [Petrograd) 

As soon as she was gone, I came out trc^in my 
hiding-place and secured the door, which was 
keyless, by tying the doorknobs with a towel. 
No further disturbance occurred. 

Next day I spent about town and returned 
about midnight. Having taken a bath, I slipped 
on my dressing-gown and proceeded through 
the dark suite of rooms towards my own. As I 
came towards the one before the last, I was sur- 
prised to see a faint light glowing tremulously. I 
thought it might be the lamp before the corner 
ikon customary to each room. Perhaps the 
servant had lighted it for some pious purpose. 
Entering the room, which was nothing but a 
recess in the corridor, I was surprised to see a 
bright-swathed figure reclining on a divan under- 
neath the hanging blue lamp, while an odour of 
burning sandalwood pervaded die atmosphere. I 
was somewhat taken aback, as I had some personal 
belongings swinging over my arm and was not 
prepared to face one of the fair sex. I saw that it 
was Madame Viedlovski, the daughter of Count 
Clemetieff, dreaming of bliss by the flickering 
light of the tiny blue lamp, and burning fragrances 
in a little porphyry vase. I went straight ahead 
without stopping to look at her more than once. 

" Don't be too hasty ! " she called out. '* Here 
are some wonderful opiums. Or if you like some 
cocaine. Try them. It is like being in paradise." 

I waited for no more, but slipped along to my 
room and fastened the towel round the door knobs 
as tight as my agitation allowed me. 

195 



The Blue Steppes 

Next day I told Countess Clemetieff that I was 
going back to the hotel. 

*' I knovv^ why," she said. " You are probably 
frightened by my daughter. Alas ! the younger 
generation have all sorts of odd ideas. But don't 
go to the hotel. There is plenty of room in the 
house opposite. My son had it for his flat before 
he married. There is only a young Cossack 
officer, a friend of ours, who sleeps there at 
present." 

So I quitted the house with the beautiful lady 
and the blue hanging lamp and went to the house 
of the Cossack. The latter was a tall, handsome 
young man of thirty or so and was just up from 
the Galician front. He carried about in his pocket 
Poe's Tales of Mystery and quoted from it with an 
ardour that was only matched by its frequency. 
He was extremely well cultivated, though he 
loved the wild life of the steppes and forests and 
was an admirable companion when he was not 
on the spree, which was rather frequent. His 
chief disadvantage was a fondness for firing pistols. 
He wore two always loaded on the hips of his 
pleated Circassian uniform. On the morning after 
my first night in the apartment, he flung open 
the folding doors that separated our bedrooms and 
called out, while I lay in bed : *' Don't trouble ! 
I'm just going to have my morning practice." 

And before I had time to answer or wipe the 
dreams from my drowsy eyes, a pistol shot plugged 
the wall just above my bed. I looked up and saw 
a round disc with bull's-eye and circles fastened 
196 



The Homes of the Mighty {Petrograd) 

half-way up the wall. He fired away for about 
ten minutes with consummate skill, hitting the 
bull's-eye every time. When I was duly impressed, 
he threw a cake of Pears' soap on to the bed and 
telling me to make a tent with my knees and 
place the soap on top, declared he would send it 
flying. However, I hopped out of bed and took 
the soap with me to the bathroom. 

When I left the house a few weeks later, he had 
gone back to the merry front, while I set out on 
the long, wearisome journey to England to tell 
people of the state of Russia and the impending 
revolution. But no one believed it. Perhaps they 
didn't wish to, having their irons already well in 
the fire. . . . 

After the revolution. Count Clemetieff's wine 
cellars were sacked by the mob and later on the 
whole house with all its priceless treasures was 
burnt down, because the revolutionaries, bent on 
confiscating the Count's famous collection of gold 
and silver plate, declared that he had hidden it in 
the walls ! 



197 






Chapter XIII 

THE HOMES OF THE MIGHTT 

(MOSCOW) 

I 

THEY WERE a great family, the TorozofFs. 
Their name spelt wealth and scores of 
factories, their palaces made the glory of 
modern Moscow. One hundred years ago the 
foundations of their immense fortunes had been 
laid by their common ancestor, a pious peasant 
owned by a Prince Dolgorouki and blessed in his 
poverty with vision and twenty-four sons. Such 
a quiverful of heavenly benedictions might have 
ruined a family for ages. There was no birth 
control in those days, nor indeed would pious Ivan 
TorozofF have smiled on such an impiety. He 
took both his poverty and his sons with blessings 
and set them to work. At first he had a hand loom, 
wove coarse fustian for the peasant women and 
then, daring all, sold his cow, ordered his grown- 
up sons to sell their cows, pooled the money and 
bought an English loom. Matters developed apace 
till all the twenty-four sons and their wives were 
at work at looms in their little wooden huts. In 
191 5, when I met one of his millionaire descendants, 
the family was the wealthiest in Russia. 
198 



The Homes of the Mighty [Moscow) 

Timofey TorozofF was the uncle of some student 
and officer friends of mine. When I went to 
stay with them for a few weeks in the summer 
they were living in a wooden chalet on their uncle's 
estate. His roomy house, built in a mixed Flemish, 
Gothic and French style, stood on a green cliff- 
like bank of the river Moscow in the neighbourhood 
of the ancient, railwayless, tramless, busless, sewer- 
less, noiseless, delightful little town of Svenigorod. 
Peace and vast spaces reigned all around. The 
estate was approached through a leafy, odorous, 
dreamy forest, miles long, through hedgeless 
meadowland, miles long, through lark-sung fields 
of waving golden corn, so far-flung that yonder 
peasant in his cart on the sandy road seemed like a 
pin-head on a cloth of gold. Just a row of neat 
wooden izbas, with carved and painted lattices, 
stretched along either side of the grassy track before 
the gates of the garden, while an ancient white church 
lifted its speckled domes, golden crosses and dove-cote 
belfry against the blue sky. Enchanting spot ! 

" When shall I have the pleasure of meeting 
your uncle ? " I asked my friends. 

" One never knows," they replied. " He dis- 
likes company. He is fifty-five, a bachelor, and 
prefers the consolation of art. Sometimes he 
plays tennis, but very rarely. We may meet him 
one day in the park. He walks about sometimes." 

However, I was destined to meet Timofey 
Torozoff much sooner than they expected. Their 
father, who was an important Minister in the 
Government, suddenly arrived for a few days' 

199 



The Blue Steppes 

seclusion in order to make up his mind about the 
policy of the Cabinet. (He resigned, in fact, 
having fallen into disgrace with the Empress.) 
My room was wanted, so it was decided that 
Uncle Timofey should be requested to allow me 
to sleep in the large Gothic house. 

We met the millionaire in one of the shady 
pine-walks skirting the precipitous bank of the 
river. He carried his hat in his hand and was 
panting like a great St. Bernard, for the day was 
sultry and he was corpulent. A pleasant face, 
tipped with a small imperial, smiled benignly at 
us, while a mellow voice, monosyllabic (or the 
nearest approach to that in polysyllabic Russian), 
rather inclined to be plaintive, mingled a greeting 
with a mention of the weather. It was obvious 
this man of vast wealth was rather shy. On the 
other hand, his name was known throughout 
Russia as a generous benefactor to all good and 
noble causes. He had built and equipped hospitals, 
founded almshouses, chairs of learning, museums, 
clubs, and was one of the leading members of the 
Moscow Society for the Encouragement of Horse- 
racing. A true and independent judge of art, he 
never waited with his millions to purchase a picture 
only when it had become an object of commercial 
value or when the artist was " established ". He 
never waited to hear what verdict the critics would 
proclaim. He was satisfied entirely with his own. 
It must have been good, for every one of his 
artistic possessions was afterwards confiscated as 
art treasure by the Soviet. Yet it was he who 
200 



The Homes of the Mighty {Moscow) 

helped the poor, unrecognized artists to live and 
produce. He also devoted much of his wealth and 
energy to the fostering of rustic art among the 
peasantry, and a large establishment under his 
name was set up in Moscow on the Leontovski 
Pereulok, though I regret to say that the majority 
of the patterns, genre Ri/sse, distributed among 
the peasants were imported from Germany ! 

In spite of all this social excellency, this ardent 
desire to benefit every class of the population, he 
was evidently a lonely man, indeed, a tortured 
man. Some indication of the nature of his suffer- 
ing was soon forthcoming. 

He had hardly given his consent to my sleeping 
in the Gothic mansion, when a litde, chubby, white- 
flannelled man with a Punch-like expression came 
swinging down the pine-walk, waving his straw 
hat and walking-stick and bursting with melody, 
singing snatches from " The Dollar Princess ". 
Timofey Torozoff turned and fled. Discreetly, of 
course. The litde " Punch " man came up and 
was introduced as Doctor Fantz, the millionaire's 
personal medical attendant. 

Anyone less " professional " in mood or manner 
it would be hard to find. He banged his straw 
hat on the back of his head, thrust his walking- 
sdck between his legs and hopped over it, first 
one leg, then the other, said impossible things, 
laughed uproariously at them, made funny horse 
noises with his sensuous red lips, and caught his 
neighbour every minute or so by the arm or 
shoulder with his flabby, diamond-studded hand. 

201 



The Blue Steppes 

" Couldn't your uncle find a better man than 
that ? " I asked afterwards, when my friends 
apologized for the exhibition. 

*' He's had him ten years already and pays 
him 20,000 roubles (^2,000) a year. And 
the funniest thing of all is when Uncle Timofey 
is unwell. He sends for another doctor. Doctor 
Fantz, of course, doesn't mind that. He has his 
wife and family, his villa here, and a house in town 
built for him by my uncle next door to his own ; 
he draws his big salary every month at the office, 
dines and wines on the pick of my uncle's larder 
and wine-cellar and uses one of the motor-cars 
almost exclusively for himself." 

" How does your uncle manage to keep him ? " 

'' Simply because Doctor Fantz has persuaded 
him that he is likely any moment to drop dead. 
He distrusts the doctor, though he knows he has 
some trivial heart complaint. So when he feels 
unwell, he goes to another doctor in order to be 
persuaded the trouble isn't too serious. But he 
must always have Doctor Fantz near him and 
will never go a day without having him some- 
where in the neighbourhood, in case he shouldn't 
be able to go to the other doctor quick enough. 
You see, the doctor has persuaded him to one 
thing about himself, and that only his own attach- 
ment can save him. So he is in perpetual revolt 
against it. But we Russians are terrible fatalists. 
There is always the chance of Doctor Fantz being 
right. It is just as though he had seen the 
number thirteen written on his brow and was 
202 



The Homes of the Mighty {Moscow) 

expecting every moment to hear Doctor Fantz 
pronounce the fatal words : ' I told you so ! ' " 

" Then it is nothing but an idea ? " 

" What will you ? We Russians live on ideas 
and must always have one great idee fixe to 
which we enslave our souls." 

I slept in the long, panelled room assigned to 
me, saw the golden moon creep up over the white 
tower of a distant church beyond the slumbering 
heath and sparkling waters of the winding river, 
heard the piping calls of the peewits in the fields 
of corn and smelt the oaten fragrance wafted 
through the open windows on the warm night air. 
About midnight the high wailing of the village 
maidens and the cries of the peasants trailing their 
fishing nets along the river gave place to the 
perfect quiet of the short July night. I sank 
into the arms of sleep. At break of dawn I was 
awakened by groans, horrid, long-drawn groans 
that ran through the dark, panelled house like 
the echoes of something sinister. I heard the 
scuttling of slippered feet along the corridor, 
the banging of a door, a low voice from afar, then 
silence. The groans ceased. It was my first night 
in the great stone house, in the house of the 
millionaire who shunned society. Gruesome as 
the groans seemed to me in the cold stillness of 
the breaking dawn, I wearied of waiting for their 
renewal and dropped off to sleep again. 

In the morning I was awakened by the sound 
of a singing voice. It came up from the grassy 
terrace before the house and streamed into the 

203 



The Blue Steppes 

musty room together with the golden sunshine 
pouring in through the open windows. I heard, 
too, the larks leaping up on the light breeze over 
the cornfields. I sprang out of bed and went to the 
window to breathe the fragrant air and see the morn- 
ing singer. No doubt it was a beautiful peasant-girl, 
carrying her flashing scythe and pouring out her 
heart in song as she swung along to the reaping fields. 
Bucolic sweetness always enchanted me. . . . 

I looked out of the window and stood stock 
still, my eyes enchanted with another vision. 
Over the broad green sward leading down to the 
river walked a woman. Her back was turned to 
the house. On her left arm swung a bathing 
towel. Singing and tripping with an air of morning 
bliss, she was clothed in grace alone. . . . 

The banging of a window and a door caught 
in the draught told me there were other observers 
of this biblical spectacle. The swaying, singing 
form disappeared over the brink of the river's bank 
and a few moments later bubbles rose to the surface 
of the water. 

It was Rebecca, the raven-locked wife of Doctor 
Fantz. Every morning, during the whole three 
weeks of my stay at Spenskoe, I was awakened 
by her morning song and greeted whenever I 
went to the open window by the vision of her pale 
form swaying joyfully in its primal grace across 
the green sward to the river's bank. The only 
variation in this matutinal idyll was when Doctor 
Fantz, leaping like a satyr, gleamed brownish and 
grotesque by her lissom side. 
204 



The Homes of the Mighty [Moscow) 

The groans continued likewise by night. They 
were, I gathered, the property of the ferret-eyed 
manservant. He was darkly suspicious of anyone 
entering the house and did not conceal his annoy- 
ance at my being allowed to sleep there. He, too, 
like his master, suffered from heart trouble, and his 
nightly attacks were skilfully administered to by 
Doctor Fantz, his fears and sufferings allayed by 
that learned worthy, and the millionaire lord of 
all nightly impressed by the horrors of heart 
trouble and the admirable skill of his doctor in 
fighting them. 

Little more might have been suspected had not 
Timofey Torozoff met us in the park with tears 
in his eyes and voice. " Look here ! " he said, 
holding out a piece of paper. " Is it not mon- 
strous ^ I rarely touch a morsel of meat, yet 
here is the monthly bill for meat which the cook 
has just presented. 4,259 roubles (^425) for 
meat for myself alone ! Four thousand pounds of 
meat consumed by me in the space of one month 1 
No w^onder I am so unbearably corpulent and 
people marvel w^hen I tell them I am on thin diet 
in order to take down my bulk ! Alas ! What's to 
be done 1 Every month it is the same. Every bill 
I receive is written out in the same proportion." 

We left him, clad in w^hite, hurrying along the 
breezy walk on the high bank of the river, fanning 
himself with his panama and moaning to the 
bee-loud limes. 

" Wliy doesn't he dismiss the chef.? " I asked my 
friend. 

205 



The Blue Steppes 

" With us it is so," he returned. " One fears 
to get a worse one in his place. To-day we 
wanted strawberries from the gardener, but he 
sends all to the market in Moscow. What my 
uncle requires for his own table he has to pay for. 
The Oopravlayooshtchi (steward) is just as bad. 
The gardener, the chef, the steward have all 
built great blocks of flats in Moscow. My uncle 
does nothing. It is always so in Russia. It is 
expected. Everybody steals. One complains a 
little, but one pays just the same. It isn't worth 
while to resist. It was always so. The next 
might be worse." 

So the colossal stealing went on week after week 
and the colossal bills were presented to the unhappy 
millionaire and paid. Of course, he protested. 
But words have no effect in Russia, while no 
one seemed to have energy or perhaps faith enough 
to act. 

Uncle Timofey consoled himself with the foster- 
ing of art, barring music, which, he told me, 
made him want to wail just like a dog whenever 
he heard anything but the human voice. I fancy 
the morning song of the doctor's wife as she 
swayed past his bedroom window must have been 
a pre-concerted attack on the one chord in his 
heart that responded to the charm of music. 

Himself a most agreeable man, he made the 
stay at Spenskoe a dream of delight, placing 
horses, motor-cars and carriages at the disposal of 
his nephews and supplying their table with his 
choicest wines. 
206 



The Homes of the Mighty [Moscow) 

His servants were all well treated, in fact, as 
will have been gathered, they treated themselves 
extremely well and their employer very badly. 
When the revolution came they behaved still worse. 

T\\Q chauffeur used to send in fabulous bills for 
repairs and working expenses, all of v\'hich were 
paid. By the time the revolution came he must 
have had quite a fortune. Under the Kerensky 
regime, when every man was striking for higher 
wages, Torozoff's chauffeur struck too, demanding 
enormous wages. It was nothing short of blackmail, 
for when I went to pay a visit to the poor million- 
aire, I noticed a large piece of paper nailed to the 
entrance gates. In large red letters there appeared 

the words : 

"chauffeur on strike 
job under boycott." 

Timofey Torozoff told me with distress in his 
voice : " He demanded such unheard-of wages. 
How could I pay, when all the workers of my 
factories are asking such wages that the business 
can only be run at a loss ? Already I am obliged 
to sell some of my property in order to carry on 
this establishment and keep one group of factories 
going. One has to ruin one factory to save 
another. The folk are blind, led on by fanatics. 
I told him he would have to find another master, 
but you see what he does. He threatens to shoot 
the first man that applies. They are all like that ! " 

He waved his hand downwards hopelessly, heav- 
ing a sigh. 

" Prodajhnie ! " (venable) *' unconscionables ! " 

207 



The Blue Steppes 

The man stayed, but when the Bolshevists con- 
fiscated the car, his master made no complaint and 
considered himself so much the richer and freer. 

As for Spenskoe, the beautiful estate on the 
banks of the Moscow river, the thieving steward 
and gardener with one or two other employees 
declared themselves communists and established 
themselves with their families in the Gothic house, 
and monopolizing the land against the pretensions 
of the local peasants, sold the produce for their 
own benefit. When, owing to lack of labour and 
cash, they were unable to cultivate the greater 
part of it, they refused to let any of the peasants 
till it and threatened to massacre anyone who 
tried. But in this they were hardly to be blamed, 
for the essence of Bolshevism as a propaganda 
for the abolition of private ownership is to inflame 
the acquisitive and possessive instincts of the non- 
possessing and to attract those who smell a fine 
chance to acquire Nabob's vineyard. 

II 

Another Moscow millionaire in whose house I 
was privileged to dwell for a short while was Ivan 
Shookin. His benefactions to the town of Moscow 
were a household word. To his generosity were 
due the Alexander III Museum and the wonderful 
collection of French post-impressionist paintings 
in the Annunciation Alley. Heir to millions at 
the age of eighteen, he had devoted his life to 
the welfare of his workers, the health of the town 
208 



The Homes of the Mighty [Moscow) 

population, the fostering of learning and the arts. 
He owned two houses in Moscow, one in which 
he hung his collection of Matisse, Cezanne, Van 
Gogue, Picasso and similar paintings and another 
in which he dwelt with his family. Every day 
he hurried forth to the former in order to be near 
his precious paintings, to show them to visitors 
and sing their glories. Thursdays and Sundays 
were free days to the public, yet he would still be 
there to answer questions and see to the happiness of 
his general guests. 

I went to live in his house in the early months 
of 19 1 8. The Bolshevists were in the saddle and 
lashing about them with the sw^ord. Ivan Shookin's 
one absorbing interest w^as to save his collection of 
art treasures from the Bolshevists. In those days 
the policy of the Soviet rulers towards the relics 
of " bourgeois " art had not been definitely 
decided. The violent section w^ere clamorous for 
the destruction of all "bourgeois" relics, as per- 
nicious reminders of the old capitalistic system 
and culture, apt to divert the eyes of the newly 
generated communist citizens from their actual 
misery to the lost charms of the old order, to foster 
evil comparisons, whereas the new and glorious 
proletarian culture had not yet appeared save in 
the hideous forms of lewd Futurism and ugly 
Asiatic Epsteinisms. Much slashing of pictures had 
already taken place and there were not wanting 
egregious heroes and heroines who were ready to 
" deepen the revolution " by destroying every 
vestige of heretical " bourgeois art ". While the 
o 209 



1 



The Blue Steppes 

great battle was waging among the Bolshevists, 
the various professors and learned people put all 
their forces together " to save the treasures of 
Russian culture ", laying aside all their political 
prejudices, they offered their services to the Soviet. 
Lenin saw the advantage of finding some sort of 
working basis with these influential circles and 
welcomed them. In this way the struggle for 
the preservation of Russia's " bourgeois relics " 
w^as successful. 

Ivan Shookin was one of the leaders of this 
movement of rescue. He was allowed to look 
after his collection, imparting his knowledge and 
enthusiasm to all his visitors. But he was not so 
comfortable in the house where his family lived. ^ 
Already various Soviet officials had turned their I 
avid eyes upon it. To obviate the disaster of being ^ 
turned out, Ivan Shookin did what was then a 
common practice among people with large houses. 
Rather than have Bolshevists foisted upon them, 
they invited respectable foreigners to occupy some 
of the rooms and safeguard them against Soviet 
intrusion by nailing a consular certificate of pro- 
tection on to the door. For this purpose, Ivan 
Shookin extended to me an invitation to occupy a 
couple of rooms in his house. The offer was 
very opportune. I had just lost my abode in a 
friend's house to a gang of Soviet officials, a 
fearful mixture of sexes and morals, that not all 
the disinfectants of the world would purify. 
Indeed, they invaded the house with a blatant 
contempt for all " bourgeois " morality. 

2IO 



The Homes of the Mighty (Moscow) 

My stay with Ivan Shookin was very agreeable 
to begin with. Being a man of much personal 
charm, aged about sixty-three and full of interest 
in life, he still made an effort to do the honours 
of traditional Russian hospitality to distinguished 
foreigners staying in the town. Artists and actors 
still came to his soire'es as in the palmy days 
before the revolution. The great feasting table 
would be set at the bottom of the high banqueting 
hall, ablaze with a myriad wax tapers and loaded 
with exquisite food. Even in those dark days of 
famine and distress, he was able to get rich deli- 
cacies by paying well. The secret lay in keeping 
in touch with minor Soviet officials. While Lenin 
and a few of the doctrinaire leaders led strenuous 
lives boiling the great Russian nation in the 
cauldron of Communism, the greater part of their 
adepts were bent on feasting themselves on the 
confiscated riches while the sovereign people starved 
and was shot into submission. 

So many of them were anxious to pile up 
fortunes abroad and were sending money to 
Sweden and Switzerland so that their share of the 
Dictatorship of the Proletariat might be safe in the 
event of its downfall. Though money had been 
officially deprived of its value, these ardent com- 
munists were always glad to get as much as they 
could and would sell food and wines from the 
confiscated cellars, or the pick of tlie country's 
produce reserved for Soviet officials. 

Ivan Shookin availed himself of this delightful 
trait of Communism. Whenever his guests asked 

21 I 



The Blue Steppes 

him where he got his choice wines and caviare 
from during such bad times, he used to answer, 
" From the Ulies of the field ". Such was the 
term among many people in Moscow to designate 
the Soviet officials, who toiled not, neither did 
they spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was not 
arrayed as one of these. In fact, they affected 
leather jackets and were provided with the best 
of everything before all others, feeding the people 
with promises. 

To the house flocked many Russian actors 
and actresses who were being superseded at the 
theatres by Hebrew artists. So intense was this 
Hebrew solidarity that hardly a Russian artist was 
allowed to remain. Apart from this, most Russian 
theatrical artists retained the old *' bourgeois " con- 
ceptions of art and were averse from accepting ^ 
the new version, which was directed against all 
that was dearest to them in their nation and 
national consciousness, scruples which Hebrews 
naturally did not share. And it was a curious 
and illuminating commentary on actual happenings, 
that wherever the old Russian national spirit and 
consciousness was suppressed, the Hebrew came 
out on top. 

Most of these stricken artists were anxious to 
get abroad, away from the sickening sight of the 
massacre of their dearest national sentiments. It 
was strange to notice that, when it was too late, 
the intelligentsia seemed to repent of its former 
a-nationalism, a-patriotism, a-morality and vague 
socialistic, international, amorphous, hysterical 

212 



The Homes of the Mighty [Moscow) 

mentality. Belated as this awakening from vain 
visions was, it came like a staggering blow between 
the eyes. The stars they had contemplated with 
such ardour fell in the dust about them. Millions 
trekked across the border, while hundreds of 
thousands were wiped off the face of the earth by 
the terrible monster they had so long nursed 
unwittingly in their bosom, bred with their own 
persistent negations and aspirations towards the 
universal. 

Besides artists, actors and literateurs, who fre- 
quented the house of Ivan Shookin, there were a 
good number of foreigners, chiefly members of 
the diplomatic missions. One stout Swedish baron, 
whose name I neglected to note, enlivened one 
remarkable soiree by telling hair-raising tales of 
his lion-hunting expedition in Africa in company 
with Prince William of Sweden He related his 
story with the utmost solemnity. When he came 
to the moment when the lions were heard roaring, 
he threw out his portly, diamond-studded chest, 
took an immense breath of air, and bulging out 
his cheeks, eyes and lips, made such fearful noises 
that the young ladies blew their noses ; whether 
to hide their terror or to add to it, I know not. 
The story, I may add, was told in rugged German, 
so that every time the baron pronounced the 
diphthong " au ", he did it with such a mighty 
discharge of the " ah-oo " that one almost heard 
the echo of the roaring lions without need of 
further demonstration. 

To counter this enormous success, Ivan Shookin 

213 



having no eye or ear for the beauties of nature 
and losing his soul to the roar of the lion, while 



The Blue Steppes 

himself related the thrilling episodes of his journey- 
to Mount Ararat and his sojourn at the ancient 
monastery of Saint Catherine at Sinai. It was 
interesting to note the difference in outlook of 
the two story-tellers ; the Swedish lion-hunter 

1 

Ivan Shookin lost himself in wonderful descrip- * 
tions of the golden, burning sands of the desert 
turning to rose-pink at sunset, of the jingling 
bells of the camels and caravans, of the beautiful 
mosaics and services in the ancient monastery of 
St. Catherine, and finally, with one great sweep of 
human feeling, of the sad plight of a young monk 
who had looked after him and had confided to 
him his sufferings. He had been a lawyer in 
Athens, killed a man in a love affair and, filled 
with repentance, had vowed his life to the service 
of God at the ancient monastery situated down a 
far-off gorge in the midst of the arid desert. The 
heat was so intense that his physical and moral 
sufferings were scarcely bearable. 

*' I stood with him on the roof of the guest- 
house," Ivan Shookin related in his succulent 
voice. *' We watched the gorgeous rays of the 
scorching sun die down over the quivering sand of 
the desert. The sky hung above like an immense 
sapphire bubble, and, with the passing of the sun, 
the whole earth seemed to swell upwards like a 
vast, rising vapour tinged with a melting pink that 
was lovely beyond compare. From the turret of 
the church came the melodious swaying of the 
214 



The Homes of the Mighty {Moscow) 

bells and the strong voices of monks singing tlie 
preparatory hynin. There were shouts in the 
hot, extended air from the camp where tlie camels 
shook their tinkling bells. My handsome guide 
covered his face in his hands and heaved a deep 
sigh. ' You go to-niorrow,' he said, ' back to 
the world I have abandoned, the world of merry 
sounds, laughter and love, of battle and struggle. 
But I shall remain here in the scorching solitude 
of the desert, where nothing of the old life follows 
me but its dreams. My God ! It is hardly possible 
for human flesh and blood. Always I think of 
the past, of my lost hopes and ambitions, my 
terrible wrong-doing. And all the time the image 
of her for whom I sinned comes back to torture 
me. She hovers about me always. She is in the 
rays of the sun. She burns me with her kisses. 
She is in the cool of the garden shade, in the 
refreshment of the water from the deep well, 
speaking to me of the quieter bliss she wove for 
me. But I will not go back. I will stay here, 
bearing this cross. Perhaps in the unseen scheme 
of things there is more wisdom in this sacrifice 
than if I returned to the ways of love and possession 
which have already wrought so much harm.' " 

The lion-hunter showed signs of restlessness, 
being more concerned with the roaring of earthly 
lions than of the heavenly adversary. He hastily 
proposed a song and offered to provide the 
voice himself. We were fearfully startled at tliis 
announcement, having still in our ears the echo of 
his recent attempt to imitate a lion's roar. But 

215 



The Blue Steppes 

none of us would deny that it had provided us 
with a very enjoyable moment. So we applauded 
the Swedish baron's proposal. He forthwith went 
to the grand piano, chose " Der Erlkonig " from 
a pile of notes, called up the accompanist, heaved 
his portly, diamond-studded chest and let go 
with such dash and volume of sound that we expected 
to see the ceiling come rattling down. Instead of 
airy phantoms, there must have been lions on all 
sides of the unfortunate Erlking, for the baron let 
fly at them with such terrific blasts that the very 
Lion of Araby would have slunk home at the 
sound with his tail between his legs. Neverthe- 
less, we applauded heartily and asked for more. 
Which the baron very obligingly provided. And 
all the while. Communism and Leninism were in 
power outside, wreaking their odious evil on poor, 
tortured humanity. But it was useless to senti- 
mentalize about it. The cabarets and theatres 
never once ceased to function, even when men 
were being shot in thousands and the populace 
was starving and cowed. I think at the Last Day 
there will be thousands who will find amusement 
of some sort while waiting their turn to be judged. 
After the third song of the obliging baron a 
little untoward incident occurred. Ivan Shookin's 
second wife had formerly been a school teacher, 
divorced from a Frenchman, who was among the 
guests. Thinking the baron needed a chair after 
his tempestuous exertions, she offered him one as 
he stood bending over the pile of notes and selecting 
another song. 
216 



I 



The Homes of the Mighty (Moscow) 

" No, no, I don't want It ! " he exclaimed 
very abruptly in a rugged tone of voice, and 
went on with liis search. Madame Shookin went 
off into an adjoining room. Presently some women 
went in to her. 

Her litde fluffy head was all dishevelled, her 
lips running red. I looked in. Madame Shookin 
was sitting on the divan, weeping. 

*' How could he speak to me like that ? " she 
sobbed. " I w^anted to look after his comfort. 
Why was he so rude, so abrupt, so unfeeling ? " 

*' Madame," I ventured to suggest, " he has 
been so used to dealing with lions and relating 
about them so often that he must always have 
them on the brain. Take it as a compliment. 
No lion-hunter likes to be offered comfort 
by a lady. The idea of comfort is repulsive 
to a big-game hunter. One must take it for 
flattery that he speaks to a lady as he would to 
a lion." 

Smiles shone through the w^elling tears and the 
little lady smoothed out her ruffled locks, opened 
her satchel and readjusted the line of her lips. 
Consolation bloomed in her eyes and laughter 
lurked roguishly in her slender throat once more. 
And to roll back every cloud of sorrow from her 
vision, the booming voice of the lion-hunting 
baron surged tumultuously into the room from 
the resounding hall. It was as though a terrific 
avalanche of rocks and boulders and gurgling 
waters had been let loose from the top of a stormy 
mountain : 

217 



The Blue Steppes 

" Ich komme vom Gebirge he-e-E-E-rrr, 
Es da-a-A-A-mpft das Tha-a-A-A-I, 
Es brau-oo-oo-OO-st das A'le-e-E-E-rrr. . . ." 

The little lady sank back on to the divan 
overcome with emotion. " He's so powerful ! " 
she exclaimed between fits of weeping laughter. 
" He makes something go wobbly inside of me. 
He touches such a funny chord in my heart." 

So, recovering from her fit of tears and resent- 
ment, she went back to her guests in the hall full 
of laughter and chatter. 

After a few performances on the piano by a 
well-known artist, it was decided to sit down to 
the feast at the long table laden with flaming 
tapers, a hissing samovar, and dishes of salads, 
zakuski and succulent meats. Being carnival time, 
the customary hiini or pancakes, some made with 
chopped fish, some with minced meat or chopped 
onion, were served with melted butter or cream 
sauce. Then began the Russian custom of stufling 
oneself with biini in order to beat every other 
person at table in the number consumed. 

" Five ! Ten ! Fifteen, twenty, thirty ! " they 
shouted, glowing and swelling and oozing with 
pride of accomplishment. 

No one ate less than ten, after which they con- 
sumed the delicacies surreptitiously bought from 
hands that should have served them to the Dictators 
of the Proletariat. There was a peculiar thrill in 
the knowledge that one was consuming caviare 
that should have entered the communistic mouth 
of a commissar whose lips still oozed with promises 
218 



The Homes oj the Mighty [Moscow) 

of paradise for tlie people, and whose hands were 
eager for the first fruits. 

Such festive evenings wTre rare, liov\'ever, in 
this once famous house, and depended on the will 
and cupidity of the Soviet officials who supplied 
the good things. Bribery, peculation, favouritism, 
underhand dealings and treachery were still more 
rife since the overthrow of Tsardom. That was 
only natural, for it was by stirring up the cupidity 
and envy of the masses in a wholesale manner that 
Lenin made his bid for power, and it was only too 
obvious that the destruction of the old private 
ownership did nothing but over-excite the lust for 
possession in those who had the new chance. It 
became the rage to get what one could out of the 
communistic, property-abolishing order and hide 
it away in expectation of the time when Sovietism 
will be as the memory of a hideous nightmare. 
Psychologically the attitude of most people was 
to get what one could out of the smashing and 
confiscating, and wait for the inevitable fall of 
Communism. For this reason there was a mad 
desire to get and hide Tsarist rouble notes in the 
belief that they alone would have a value after 
the return to normal conditions. 

About the middle of 191 8, the Soviet people 
began to harass Ivan Shookin in spite of the 
foreigners and their consular certificates. One 
day a young commissar arrived in the company of 
a rather pretty woman and demanded to look over 
the house. After a tour of inspection, he went 
back to Ivan Shookin's bedroom and said : " Clear 

219 



The Blue Steppes 

out of this. I want this for me and my com- 
panion. Also the room adjoining." 

Accordingly the rooms were relinquished. The 
commissar came in, occupied the bedroom with 
his companion and made himself at home. The 
commissar was somewhat surly, but the young 
woman, a Serbian Jewess, was pleasant though 
contemptuous of all " bourgeois " codes. Unfortu- 
nately she left after a week or so, and her place 
as " companion " was taken by another woman, 
whose loud, toneless voice hooted like a horrible 
motor-horn throughout the house. Occupying the 
best bedroom and study, she made herself com- 
munistically objectionable. Her nose, like her 
harsh voice, was always in the air. 

'' Bourjhooika ! " she would say disdainfully to 
Madame Shookin. " Bloodsucker ! We will show 
you what it is to drink our blood ! " All the 
claptrap of the Communist rolled from her lips 
like the toads from the lips of the girl in the 
fairy tale. 

" As for you English," she said, addressing 
me on the stairs, " a nation of dog's faces, that's 
what you are. But wait ! We will show you 
bloodthirsty English what strength is. A people 
of patriots, general-shopkeepers, and aristocratic 
working-men must be swept off the face of the 
earth. You have tortured the world too long 
with your moral airs and exploitations. We shall 
level you down a bit." 

Whenever she passed me in the house, she would 
hold forth about the " English gang of dog-faces, 
220 



The Homes of the Mighty {Moscow) 

shopkeepers and knightly working-men " [shaika 
sobachikh mordy iavochnikov i rytzarskix rabo- 
chikh). She used to roll the phrase off with great 
unction and contempt, especially the " knightly 
working-men ", as though they were the epitome 
of all that was revolting to her communistic 
nature. Her contempt for knightliness was all 
the more vast because Russia was never within 
the orbit of the knightly aspirations of Medieval 
Europe and consequently had inherited none of 
its traditions or moral values. Only those who 
know the Russian language thoroughly and are 
conversant with Soviet Russia can realize the 
depth of the contempt which the Russian Com- 
munists entertain towards the British trade- 
unionists. This hatred and contempt comes from 
the fact that the British working-man does not 
see any utility or take any delight in throwing 
bombs about or smashing up what he gets his 
living by for the sake of something that is all in 
the air and likely to deprive him of his liberty, 
and what he has already. Being mostly doctrinaire 
theoreticians, the Communist leaders shot the 
trade-unionist leaders and the more virile type 
of w^orking-man, especially after their demand for 
the continuadon of the right to strike. Such a 
demand was dubbed " treason to the Socialistic 
State ", and in order to convert the trade unions 
into a servile appendage of the Central Communist 
Bureau, the Soviet shot the leaders and men with 
private judgment. I was myself in prison with 
the men of the Prokhorov factory in Moscow 

221 



The Blue Steppes 

and heard their protest against the destruction of 
the real trade unions before they were taken out 
to be shot. 

As for the Soviet woman, with her constant 
stream of contempt and hatred, she was left 
severely alone by all the rest of the inhabitants of 
the house. However, she refused to let them 
alone. A difficulty arose of a very intimate nature. 
Ivan Shookin's bathroom was commandeered by 
these communistic personages. As the only other 
bath was out of order and no one could be got 
to mend it, we were all obliged to use Ivan 
Shookin's bathroom. It was a tiled construction 
sunk in the floor with ledges round the sides to sit 
or lie on. 

None of us relished the necessity of using the 
bath after the commissar and his companion. 
Moreover, they were out-and-out Communists in 
everything. Ivan Shookin's house had always 
been a home of decency and respectability and 
had stood out against the wave of corruption 
which swept Russia long before the revolution. 
But he could do nothing to prevent the Com- 
munists from invading his home and bringing 
with them their morals and manners. 

For one thing, none of us liked the necessity 
of having to put up with the offensive intrusion of 
free love into the home. Communists, of course, 
disclaim any respect for other people's views or 
feelings. Such things are labelled as " prejudice ", 
" bourgeois mentality ", and you have to have them 
knocked out of you. 

222 



The Homes of the Mighty [Moscow) 

The young commissar had already changed his 
companion within ten days. Moreover, they used 
the bathroom communistically every night and 
morning and prevented others from getting an 
honest wash. One dared make no protest for 
fear of being thrown out into the street. 

Now about this time (April 191 8) a great stir 
was produced throughout Russia by the sugges- 
tions of several local Soviets for the nationalization 
of women. The newspapers were full of the 
subject. The Soviet of Saratoff decreed that a 
man could take any woman to wife and should 
pay her 250 roubles a month, the " marriage " to 
be terminated by dismissal. Similar decrees were 
issued by the Soviets at Pokrov, Vladimir, and at 
Svenigorod, near the estate of my friends on the 
Moscow river. Fortunately, in the latter place, 
the peasants and townsmen rose in revolt against 
the attack on their womenfolk and killed the 
ringleaders of the Soviet. (Accounts of these 
happenings may be read in the Russkoe S/ovo, the 
Moskovskiya Birjhevia Viedomosti and the Soviet 
Izvestia during April-May 19 18.) 

There was naturally a great resentment among 
the intelligentsia, who began to see at last that 
there were indeed such things as sanctities in life 
and that their Nietzschean philosophy had led 
them astray. The excitement about this matter 
became acute, especially as a battle was raging 
within the Communist Party itself concerning the 
position of marriage in the Communist State. 
Private ownership having been abolished, it was 

223 



The Blue Steppes 

maintained that no man could possess a wife under 
the old " bourgeois " conditions. Free love had 
always been a paramount plank in the Communists' 
platform and the downright section of the party, 
who stood for the full application of their prin- 
ciples and no mercy for old " bourgeois " preju- 
dices, fought hard for the total abolition of any 
legal sanction for the union of the sexes. That 
was a matter to be left entirely to the wills of 
the citizens, to be arranged amongst themselves 
according to their pleasure. Men and women 
being on an equal footing and there being no 
longer any question of providing for a wife, main- 
taining her, or founding a family, marriage as an 
institution was to be abolished. Men and women 
were to come together at their caprice and what- 
ever offspring they chanced to have would be 
taken over and brought up by the Communist 
State. There was to be no question of family 
life. These views were maintained by the conse- 
quential doctrinaires and the " deepeners of the 
revolution ", and although they started at once 
to apply them to actual life, it soon became evident 
that the State was utterly unable to carry the 
system out universally. Communists naturally 
lived together in the glory of free love, changing 
their partners according to their caprice and put- 
ting their children out into the State children's 
colonies founded on some of the confiscated estates. 
But even these were failures, and the Soviet found 
itself forced to rely on the private instincts and 
the " bourgeois " idea of love and parental affec- 
224 



The Homes of the Mighty {Moscow) 

tion for the maintenance of the nation's children. 
In spite of all the high-sounding eloquence, the 
rosy visions, the snowstorm of Soviet decrees, 
nothing seemed to work out successfully on com- 
munistic lines. All that could be done was to 
maintain a model children's colony, a model farm, 
factory, hospital, works, school, etc., here and 
there throughout the vast land of Russia, where 
the communistic idea would be seen working out 
harmoniously. Naturally these " models " {obra- 
ztsovie) were maintained at the expense of the 
State, a sort of robbing Peter to dress up Paul, 
and they were especially cultivated and adorned 
for the benefit of foreign visitors. The model 
Communist " children's colonies " were so main- 
tained even when the Soviet newspaper itself had 
to complain of the thousands of beggar children 
roaming about the country. 

There was a loud section of the Communist 
Party which cried out for the nationalization of 
women on the ground that everything in the 
Communist State was for common service [upo- 
treblienie) and nothing for keeping. And to 
prevent the unjust distribution of the more 
desirable women it was considered advisable to 
nationalize them. The idea was freely discussed, 
and as I have already mentioned, translated into the 
form of a Soviet decree in various localities. It was 
the natural outcome of the Communist theory, of 
the abolition of private ownership, the family, 
and " bourgeois " morality, of the sentiments of 
love and parental affection, and of the substitution 
p 225 



The Blue Steppes 

of communal ownership, free intercourse, and 
the nationalization of the " services " and " com- 
modities ". 

It can well be imagined how great was the 
outcry of Russia against this outrageous project. 
The intelligentsia, who for years had practised 
and preached sex-communism as the " latest dictum 
of science ", recovered its head at last and woke 
up to the horror of seeing itself in the Soviet mirror 
with all the foul consequences of its advanced 
teaching and practices legally enthroned by 
thorough-going, consequential doctrinaires. 

I sympathized with their revolt, but as I had 
often argued with them about the consequences 
of their views long before the revolution, I 
might have used that hideous phrase : " I told 
you so ! " 

Lenin and Trotsky, it appeared, were all for 
caution in applying their Communist theory to 
the country as a whole. To maintain the children 
of 120,000,000 peasants in children's colonies 
was obviously a fool's task. Private ownership in 
this case was much better. So that part of the 
Communist paradise was left to be practised on 
the children of the Communist caste, for whom 
the confiscated mansions and estates were set 
aside. In general the children of the workers 
and peasants were left to the private energies and 
affections of their parents with a good deal of 
starvation and misery in the bargain. 

Nevertheless, the Soviet leaders destroyed the 
value of marriage by subder means. They issued 
226 



The Ho?ncs of the Mighty {Moscow) 

a decree whereby any man or woman could con- 
tract " marriage " or dissolve it by making a 
simple declaration before a commissar. This was 
a sop thrown out to the great majority of the 
people in whom the old idea of marriage still 
lingered pretty toughly. Marriage, however, as 
an institution was smashed. A man or woman 
could marry to-day and either of them could go 
round to the local commissar next morning and 
divorce his or her partner by just declaring : 
*' I've done with her " (or him). In this way 
the prostitute picked up in the streets could be 
registered as a legal " wife " and " divorced " in 
the space of a few hours by all who cared to avail 
themselves of the " marriage " law. Most Com- 
munists believing in absolute free love did not 
trouble about this formality, though " bourgeois " 
respectability still held its sway over a good many 
and still counted for much among the vast majority 
of the population. In the house of Ivan Shookin, 
the young commissar who occupied the best rooms 
soon grew tired of his second " wife " and intro- 
duced a third. 

This time the second did not leave. She 
still refused to go, although her " husband " told 
her he had declared her divorced before the local 
commissar, and had " married " the third woman. 
There were terrible ructions every evening when 
the commissar came home from his office. 

Ivan Shookin naturally complained about the 
man having two wives in the house, but was told 
to swallow his bourgeois prejudices, which were 

227 



The Blue Steppes 

no longer of any importance under Communism. 
He was very upset, for never before in his long 
life had he been obliged to live together with 
people who flaunted their contempt for decency 
so arrogantly. Having children of his own, he 
wished to keep his home free from Communist 
contamination. All his protests leading to nothing 
but insults and threats, he decided to take his 
family away to a little house in the country among 
some friendly peasants while making arrangements 
to get out of Russia. The more so, because the 
Soviet had appointed an official to look after his 
collection of paintings and ordered him to retire 
on account of " his bourgeois manner of describing 
the pictures of the post-impressionists to visitors ". 
By the time we quitted the house, the commissar 
had come to some arrangement with his two women, 
the ousted one making herself at home in my 
bedroom, thus obliging me to sleep on the divan 
in the adjoining study, while she claimed " com- 
munistic rights " over the commissar and by sheer 
force of vulgarity succeeded in establishing her 
foothold in the divided menage. 

Ivan Shookin, however, was loaded with dem.ands 
for money by the local Soviet, " Make the bour- 
geois pay " being the slogan of the hour. More- 
over, he was fined 50,000 roubles for " premature 
quitting of his apartment ", the report of which 
levy duly appeared in Izviestia. 

Harassed almost out of his life, bullied from 
pillar to post, deprived of his money, the care of 
his precious paintings, which he had spent a life- 
228 



The Homes of the Mighty [Moscow) 

time collecting, he found at last a means of getting 
abroad, happy at least in the prospect of living 
in poverty on the freedom-loving soil of France. 

Some time after his departure, the Soviet broad- 
cast to the world the lofty lie that they had 
opened for the first time to the public with various 
flattering arrangements the Moscow collection of 
post-impressionist paintings, while an eccentric 
Irishwoman, lulling her surging soul in the lap 
of Communist flattery, came back from Moscow 
with glowing descriptions of the gallery and what 
the Soviet was doing for art. Both the Soviet 
and its flatterer discreetly neglected to mention 
what had become of the wonderful old man who 
had devoted all his life, fortune and energy, to 
gather this collection, buying these " bourgeois " 
pictures from the painters when they were ignored 
and penniless. Nor did she dream of mentioning 
that while she was being feasted in those halls, 
the man who had adorned them was homeless 
and penniless in Paris, thrown out with insults 
and villainy by her smooth-tongued hosts. 



229 



Chapter XIV 

A MIXED HOUSE 

AFTER THE DEPARTURE of Ivan 
Shookin from his house I was obliged to 
seek shelter elsewhere. Fortunately a Russian 
friend came to the rescue and offered me a room in 
the flat he was occupying with his family in a 
large house near the Zoological Garden. I was 
fortunate in having so many excellent Russian 
friends, for during those long months of suffering, 
famine and persecution, I was never once given 
help by the British officials, who seemed to be 
quite indifferent to the fate of British subjects 
outside the circle of their own friends. It 
was the Russians, who themselves were losing 
everything, that begged me to share their last 
crust. 

The room I now occupied was situated at the 
top of the house. The whole building originally 
belonged to a rich widow, who had been obliged 
to let off the top floor. We all shared a common 
dining-room, so that an opportunity was soon 
afforded me to watch the characters of the various 
inhabitants reveal themselves. 

Marie Pavlovna, the rich widow, was a woman of 
230 



A Mixed House 

forty, of a radiant type that seemed to ooze rosy 
beauty. Short and plump, she had mouse-coloured 
hair and ash-coloured eyes that shone glassily. 
Diamonds shone ever in her cars and pearls looped 
her dove-like throat, while her silvery voice had 
always an echo of sootheless complaint. She was 
never without her male attendant. In fact, since 
her husband's death she had already installed a 
series of lovers. One had been a Belgian chauffeur, 
who finally went off with her motor-car and refused 
to return it. The present one was an ex-groom, 
who affected very sedate and immaculate clothes, 
large, white starched cuffs with diamond studs 
projecting conspicuously from his sleeves, as if to 
mark his change of station. The advantage of 
having this man for a " free " husband, as the 
term was, showed itself after the revolution, when 
the man promptly joined the Communists and 
was given the post of art commissar. In fact, 
the widow's house was full of art treasures which 
her late husband had collected. Neverthe- 
less, this did not prevent Soviet searchers from 
entering the top flat, where my friend's aged 
aunt was arrested and taken to prison because 
she was found to possess a copy of the Protocols 
of Z'lon. She had had it ever since its first 
publication twenty years or so ago, and had 
merely got it out to read once again because 
every one was talking about it and marvelling 
at the astounding confirmation of all the protocol 
contained. 

I do not know what becanie of the poor old 

231 



The Blue Steppes 

lady, for she was still in the Soviet prison when I 
left Russia. 

We all had revolvers for defence purposes, and 
whenever there was a night search we were often 
obliged to hide them in the gutter of the roof 
just under the dormer windows. The penalty for 
possessing firearms was death, but so many maraud- 
ing brigands were entering houses as commissars 
and murdering people that it was not safe to be 
without a revolver. On one occasion, a com- 
missar opened my window to look for things that 
might be concealed on the roof, and it was only 
by knocking down a Sevres vase and smashing it 
that I succeeded in drawing his attention back to 
the room for a few minutes, while I went to the 
window and brushed my revolver from the coping 
into the shrubs in the garden below. After that 
I devised a safer hiding-place for revolver and 
cash by removing the ikon which fills a corner 
crosswise in every Russian room and replacing it 
with a framed portrait of Lenin, placing it also 
crosswise like an ikon. On the little three- 
cornered shelf behind I hid the revolver and 
money. Whenever the Soviet searchers came 
into the room, they saw the picture of Lenin, 
murmured their approval and left me without 
further ado. 

Marie Pavlovna's aged mother lived with her 
and was very fond of the old horse which used to 
draw her carriage in the old days. It had now 
grown old and decrepit and could hardly be kept 
alive because the peasants brought no corn or 
232 



A Mixed House 

fodder to the town as a protest against the abolition 
of private trade and the nationaUzation of the 
products of the land. Everywhere one saw horses 
growing like bags of bones. Toorok, grand- 
mother's horse, also became like a shadow, so 
rather than see him suffer any longer it was 
decided to kill him. A Tartar horseflesh dealer 
was called in, and from behind the upper window 
overlooking the stable-yard, the dear old woman 
stood watching the agony of her dear old horse. 
When the stream of blood flowed out from beneath 
the gate, she turned aside and wept. 

There was also a little tragedy with one of 
Marie Pavlovna's Pekinese dogs. The stableman 
had a large wolf hound, but was unable to find 
sufficient food for its voracious appetite owing to 
the famine. He had been told never to let it out 
of the yard, but one evening it got loose and 
devoured one of the Pekinese almost at a gulp. 

There was a small garden at the back of this 
house, where at evening the ex-groom '' free " 
husband of the rich widow would bring various 
Soviet commissars. About that time there was a 
great stir in the population owing to the reported 
massacre of the Imperial family in July 191 8. 
A requiem service which I attended at the church 
of St. Spiridon In the Spridonovsky Pereulok was 
the scene of extraordinary manifestations of popular 
sorrow. Fortunately for the priest, he happened 
to have been Vladimir Lenin's teacher of religion 
wlien the latter was a pupil at one of the colleges 
of Kazan. Everywhere one heard murmurs of 

233 



The Blue Steppes 

indignation among the population. To counter- 
act this, the Soviet leaders put forth a rumour. 

At the Villa Charitonoff we heard it from the 
lips of a friendly commissar. He declared that it 
was true the Tsar had been shot, but that the 
Empress, the Tsarevich and the Grand Duchesses 
had been carried away to a monastery in a remote 
part, where they were being looked after. 

This judicious rumour succeeded in allaying the 
great indignation of the people at the reported 
murder of the beautiful, innocent womenfolk. 

A short while afterwards the Izviestia began to 
publish the diary which the Tsar had kept during 
his imprisonment. It was read with such pathetic 
interest by the population that it was discontinued. 

Marie Pavlovna's aged mother was deeply 
religious and after the announcement of the murder 
of the Tsar, decided to beg the monks of the 
Donskoy Monastery to bring the ikon of the newly 
revealed " Samoderjhavnaya Virgin " (Autocratic 
Virgin) to her house for a moleben (short service). 
It was always the custom with pious Russians to 
invite a wonder-working ikon to their houses, 
where it would rest in the drawing-room on a 
white-covered table and the priests would incense 
it and chant litanies before it. It had become 
the vogue since the death of the Tsar to receive 
the " Autocratic Virgin " for this purpose. This 
ikon was miraculously discovered just after the 
announcement of the Tsar's murder. A woman 
had a vision in which the Archangel Michael 
revealed to her that an ikon of the Holy Virgin, 
234 



A Mixed House 

crowned with the crown of the Autocrat of all 
the Russias, was walled up in a certain cellar. 
The woman related her vision to the monks of 
the Donskoy Monastery, a search was made, and 
lo, the ikon was discovered in tlie spot indicated 
in the vision. It was found adorned with the 
autocratic crown. This fact, coinciding with the 
death of the Tsar, brought the *' Autocratic Virgin " 
into immediate popularity. Miracles began to 
multiply and the belief rapidly spread that this 
ikon had been especially revealed to signify God's 
approbation of autocracy. One sometimes wonders 
at the vagaries of Providence, but in this case it 
was obviously helping those who helped themselves. 

The '* Autocratic Virgin " was brought to our 
house by the priests and a very emotional service 
was held before it, the men and women weeping 
and sobbing when the old familiar prayers for 
the Royal Family were chanted. Even the ex- 
groom "free" husband and self-interested Com- 
munist was moved, for he turned to me and said 
in a shaken voice ; " We have new masters, but 
all the same, the old had something so touching. 
It agitates the heart to remember. If ' God Save 
the Tsar ' was to be played, I know we should all 
shed tears whatever we are. Communist or not." 

Meanwhile from outside came the blare of the 
orchestra playing to an audience of the commissar 
aristocracy in the Zoological Garden, where con- 
certs were given till far into the night, while the 
poor animals were neglected and starved to death. 
Later in the evening, after dusk, we heard the 

235 



The Blue Steppes 

sound of shooting from the rear of the local Soviet. 
There were always these two sounds to remind us 
of the new regime, the shooting of political 
prisoners mingled with the blare of the orchestra at 
the neighbouring concert where the death-dealing 
commissars were being entertained after their 
day's work. 

About this time a very unfortunate thing hap- 
pened to the father of my friends. He had been 
living very quietly on the top floor with his wife 
and grown-up children. Being a landowner, his 
life was made a misery to him. The peasants 
had taken every scrap of land, and, urged 
on by a nasty pair of local Communists, who 
headed the Peasants' Soviet, insisted in making 
demands on the poor man's personal fortune for 
the various expenses of the estate. He was not 
even allowed to hide away from it in the town 
or to renounce the tax-obligations of the land and 
buildings he no longer possessed. This curious, 
perverse mentality was universal. Workers and 
peasants who had seized factories and farms still 
clung to the belief that the dispossessed capitalist 
was a sort of bottomless financial coffer, from 
which all demands connected with the confiscated 
businesses could be met. They gave themselves 
arbitrary wages, squandered the working capital, 
dismissed the management and set up their own, 
or in the case of land, broke up the large units 
and frittered them down by destructive division. 
Faced with disaster, they ran to the Government 
and the latter turned them to the dispossessed 
236 



A Mixed House 

owners with the slogan : *' Make the bourgeois 
pay ! " The only way for the latter to escape 
from this madness was by fleeing abroad. 

When M. Lvoff, my friends' father, fled from 
his estate, the Peasants' Soviet pursued him to his 
abode in Moscow. Then, finding their demands 
for cash were unavailing and that everything was 
being ruined on the estate, they sent a peasant to 
him with a very touching letter. In it they 
declared how sorry they were for having taken the 
land away, for all the wrong they had done, the 
insults they had offered, the cruel words they had 
spoken. They realized they had been led astray, 
that things on the estate could not be managed 
without the capitalist, that there were too many 
thieves and dishonest persons among themselves 
for anything to be run on communistic lines. 
They beat their brows against the ground, crossed 
themselves and swore by heaven that they were 
sorry and begged their old friend and master to 
return to manage the estate. They would elect 
him president of the Peasants' Soviet, and follow 
his advice in everything. " Beloved Pavl Niko- 
laich," they concluded. " With hot tears in our 
eyes, we look back to the good old times when 
you were always among us. You looked after 
our welfare and did everything so that nothing 
was neglected, nothing allowed to go to ruin, 
nothing done without order and foresight. Come 
back to us, beloved Pavl Nikolaich. We await 
you with bread and salt. We beg you." 

Tears dimmed the eyes of M. Lvoff as he read 

237 



The Blue Steppes 

out the touching letter. His broad chest heaved 
and he embraced the bearded peasant Foma, who 
had brought the letter and stood with cap in hand 
in the little study. 

" Noo da, barin," Foma declared, in a long, 
drawling voice, swaying his bobbed head. " Our 
heart is Russian. We have sinned, but the Lord 
is merciful to sinners. We repent with all our 
soul. Come back to us. You will live as before 
in the big house. We will come to you for advice 
as before." 

M. Lvoff set off the same day for his estate in 
the Government of Tula. A few days later his 
wife received a letter from the same Peasants' 
Soviet, saying that they had locked M. Lvoff in 
the cellar of the house and would not release him 
until all the money had been paid which they 
had demanded. Madame Lvoff had no such 
amount in her possession, so, in despair, she 
dressed as a peasant, hiding her features with a 
kerchief, and went down to the village. Armed 
with a bottle of vodka, she went to the house under 
cover of dark, quickly made friends with the 
peasant-guard by taking the cork out and putting 
the vodka-bottle under his nose. When he was 
quite drunk, she smashed the lock of the cellar 
with a hatchet, rescued her husband and fled 
with him. 

Her troubles, however, were not at an end, for, 
having an estate of her own in the Government 
of Vladimir, she was now pestered by demands 
for money by the miller's son and some of the 

238 



A Mixed House 

village loafers, who had assumed all authority in 
the district as the *' Soviet of the Poorest Peasants " 
in accordance with Lenin's decree. The estate 
had previously been run as a milk farm, while 
the forests supplied fire-logs for Moscow. The 
impudence of the loafer-expropriators knew no 
bounds. They were, however, no exception, for 
the same conduct was going on all over Russia at 
the express order of the Soviet Government. 
Besides making exorbitant and blackmailing 
demands for money, they carried on the milk 
business as their own and actually ordered Madame 
Lvoff not to get her supply of milk from any other 
quarter. 

They acted in the same impudent manner 
regarding the fire-logs, which were a great busi- 
ness, requiring much foresight. Trees had to be 
felled, cut up, stacked and allowed to stand 
three years before they could be sent to Moscow 
for burning in the Dutch stoves. The Soviet 
scoundrels sold all the available stock and made 
no attempt to renew it. Moreover they had 
trouble with the other proletarians, the carters, 
for these considered the logs to be just as much 
their property as the Peasant's Soviet, and when 
they took them to Moscow they sold them on 
their own account. The same thing happened 
on most estates. The old bourgeois stock was 
sold and nothing done to replace it, so that Moscow 
and Petrograd were left without fuel and the people 
were obliged to tear down the wooden houses or 
chop up their furniture during the freezing months. 

239 



The Blue Steppes 

Yet from their top windows they could see stretches 
of the vastest forests in Europe almost at the 
city's gates. How one could have laughed at 
" Communism ", if it had not spelt so much misery 
and so many deaths to the unfortunate general 
population ! 

When the loafer-Soviet from her estate arrived 
to demand money, Madame LvofF gave them a 
piece of her mind. The same evening she was 
arrested, kept in prison for three days and only 
set free after she had been condemned by 
the so-called " People's Tribunal " to a fine of 
5,000 roubles " for counter-revolutionary abuse of 
members of the Soviet ". 

One day I was introduced to a Lettish anarchist, 
who was working with the Soviet. It was often 
my good fortune to be mistaken for an Irishman. 
The reason for this was that my passport, issued 
under the old regime, stated my religion to be 
Catholic. Russians have a curious way of deciding 
nationality by religion. Thus a Frenchman to 
them is always a Catholic, an Englishman always a 
Protestant, and an English-speaking Catholic must 
necessarily be an Irishman. I allowed them to 
foster this illusion, because the Bolshevists were 
giving every possible favour to the Sinn Feiners. 
Money was offered quite freely, for it was by 
encouraging the least loyal elements that the 
Soviet hoped to undermine the British Empire. I 
saw a list of names of Irish officers in the British 
army and navy who were marked down as 
" blagonadejhnie " (reliable), and I was asked to 
240 



A Mixed House 

give the names of any others I cared to recom- 
mend as recipients of Soviet bounty ! It was 
astounding. But later on, I saw the utility of 
this Soviet plan, for the failure of the Archangel 
expedition and the British Mission to Judenitch 
was largely due to the Soviet overtures to the 
Irish officers. 

It was with this officer that I attended some 
lectures delivered in a large building known as 
the Officers' Economic Society in Moscow. The 
lecturer was the leader of the Anarchist Party, 
who had been working with the Communists 
since their rise to power. The Anarchists, how- 
ever, began to discover that their conception of 
the State was very different from what was being 
put into practice by the Soviet rulers. After 
some eight months work with the Soviet, Lev 
Chorny, the Anarchist leader, suddenly expressed 
his views of the actual state of Communism at 
his lectures. He declared that Communism of 
the Marxian type was utterly foreign to the 
Russian character and that all true anarchists 
should stick to the interpretation of society delivered 
by Bakhunin. The Communist movement, he 
declared, had been entirely monopolized by the 
Jewish section, who were using it for the purpose 
of destroying national civilizations and affecting 
the supremacy of their own. According to him, 
the Jewish Sovietists looked upon the proletariats 
of the various nations as a " gelatinous mass ", 
entirely dependent for its shape and character on 
the nationally and historically conscious educated 
Q 241 



The Blue Steppes 

classes. By Communism, these latter would be 
removed in all countries and the masses would be 
left to the domination of the Jews, who would thus 
remove from the world the last vestiges of '* per- 
secution and sense of inferiority ", to which they 
considered themselves subjected. 

The argument concerning the value of the 
profession of faith of the intensely national Russian 
Jews in International Socialism had long agitated 
the minds of the Russian Socialists. The latter 
could not understand why the Jews should require 
a separate socialistic organization and suspected 
that they were aiming at economic advantages 
and tribal privileges, which were hardly com- 
patible with the naive conception of the Russian 
Socialists of a society in which no distinctions were 
to be made, no tribal coteries allowed. The ques- 
tion had been loudly discussed in 1905, when the 
Jewish Bund applied for affiliation to the Russian 
Socialist Party. The Russian Socialists naturally 
asked how there could be a strictly national 
party within a party that stood for the Russian 
proletariat as a whole. In the discussions which 
followed at the conference of the Jewish Bund, 
M. Litvinoff urged the Bund to enter the Russian 
Socialist Party, for then nothing would be lost 
but everything gained. Power, he declared, would 
pass into their hands. From inside they could 
arrange things as they wished, " the future being 
theirs ". 

According to Lev Chorny, the same thing had 
happened with the Communists. The Jewish sec- 
242 



A Mixed Rouse 

tion had secured power In the Communist Party 
and were using it for their tribal interests. 

The curious part about this lecture is that it 
was the last the Anarchist leader delivered. He 
threw down the gauntlet without fear. During 
the night, however, the Soviet placed maxim- 
guns and cannon outside the headquarters and 
various buildings occupied by the Anarchists and 
blew them out without giving them a chance to 
hear or answer questions. 

There was no doubt, however, that the Russian 
Jews took up Communism with a rare zeal as 
the solution of the Jewish problem. Not only 
did it offer them a chance to dominate the Gentiles, 
most of the commissars being Jews, while twenty- 
six out of thirty of the Soviet leaders were of the 
same race, but Communism was regarded by 
them as a wonderful means for advancing the 
Jewish race throughout the world and an infallible 
and downright means for removing from the face 
of the earth all the religious, economic, racial, 
social and other disadvantages under which the 
too sensitive Jews imagined they suffered. Com- 
munism was to clear the world of everything and 
everybody that wounded the intense national pride 
of the Jews. It was especially directed against 
Christianity, for the Russian Jew had an uncon- 
trollable loathing of the mere name of Christ, 
and seemed never able to forget it. Many Russian 
Jews v^'hom I met used to declare with frank 
cynicism that they did not look upon revolution as 
anything but " a change of ownership ". 

243 



The Blue Steppes 

As for the Russian Jew as a type, he had played 
such an overwhehning part in the revolution 
and the Communist movement that no student of 
the Russian revolution can afford to close his 
eyes to the character of its ringleaders and propa- 
gandists. 

I cannot do better than quote the words of a 
very shrewd Scotsman, who was in business in 
Russia for thirty-five years long before Bolshevism 
was heard of. In his book, Thirty-Five Tears in 
Russiay^ Mr. George Hume wrote in 19 14: 
" The commonalty of the Jew in Russia has 
become the parasite of civilization, preying upon 
the vitals of the nation. It is an ingrained axiom 
of the lower class Jew that it is his religious duty 
to cheat the Christian, . . . and, in very truth, 
for knavery, peculation, roguery, and disreputable 
dealing this type is unapproachable and unequalled." 

This, then, was the type of Jew that flocked to 
*' deepen the revolution " and prey in a gigantic, 
merciless way on the vitals of the Russian nation 
under the cloak of Communism. 

All respectable Western Jews have, naturally, 
dissociated themselves from such people, just as 
respectable British citizens repudiate with scorn 
cut-throats and villains who happen to be of 
British nationality. 

With my young Anarchist-Soviet Lettish 
aquaintance, I was able to see a good deal of the 
Soviet aristocracy, especially at its centres of amuse- 
ment. Together we went one evening to a wooden 

» Simpkin, Marshall Sc Co. 
244 



A Mixed House 

villa among the woody suburbs beyond Petrovsky 
Park. 

Driving up in a Soviet motor-car (confiscated 
from Princess Dolgorouki), we arrived before the 
villa which stood secluded among a group of tall 
pine-trees. The stars were shining overhead in 
the warm July night. Through the foliage of 
the surrounding trees could be seen the lights in 
the neighbouring villas, while the voices of strollers 
came from the sandy ways and paths. Yet the 
villa before us was all in darkness, the shutters 
tightly closed, the garden brown with pine-needles, 
dank and deserted. 

Arvid, my Soviet companion, touched a bell 
knob and waited till a voice from behind the 
closed door asked for the watchword. 

*' Workers of the world unite," replied my 
Soviet companion. 

The bolts w^ere drawn and the door thrown 
open, letting out a flood of golden light into the 
blue night. The attendant was gorgeously attired 
in a livery after the style of the old regime. It 
was obvious a part of the dictating proletariat 
had to be set aside to wait on their " liberators ". 
Footmen, immaculate in frock coats, took our 
hats with old-time obsequiousness. It was notice- 
able that they wore rosettes with the Soviet device, 
a sickle and hammer. What a farce it seemed to 
me, for not one of the Communist lordlings who 
came to the villa had ever touched a sickle or 
hammer ! 

The walls of the villa were plain logs, orna- 

245 



The Blue Steppes 

merited with foxes' heads and various skins of 
wild animals. The furniture was plain, mostly 
divans. In a large room we were introduced to 
various commissars with their women in various 
stages of matrimonial friendship. The show had 
not begun, for the greater part of the Communist 
revellers, all princes of the caste, had not yet 
arrived. We waited and chatted for about twenty 
minutes till there entered the most hideous col- 
lection of mortals that could ever come together. 
Russian Jews, Armenians, Caucasians, Tartars, 
Mongols, heaven knows what, all rulers of the 
Russian people, flocked in with their womenfolk, 
leaving their cars outside. 

I was very much amused when a man went 
upstairs for a few moments and came back with a 
woman whom he introduced to the company with 
the explanation : " She is of Society ". 

So it w^as evident the Communists had their 
own exclusive society from which the common 
proletariat was shut out. Perhaps this was quite 
natural, for it would be foolish to believe that the 
whole proletariat could enjoy the pick of the 
earth's riches. That was a privilege of a few, as in 
any form of society. In this Communist paradise, 
the Communists took the best of everything and 
did not forego their luxuries even though the 
rest of the country was starving. Truly, all that 
the Russian working-classes could say was that 
they had changed their masters and lost their 
liberty in the bargain. 

The traditional gypsy band dispensed balalaika 
246 



A Mixed House 

music, the usual toasts were drunk in champagne, 
glasses were smashed, the only difference being 
that a little red wine was mixed with the cham- 
pagne in order to give it a revolutionary colour. 
Red roses adorned the supper table, red table 
cloths were spread and nothing but red sauces 
were served. Red speeches were made and one 
of the women, in her mad revolutionary enthu- 
siasm (aided by the wine), declared that her one 
regret was that she could not grow a red skin. 
Nevertheless, she took consolation in being able 
to wTar red next to her skin and produced a wave 
of ardour in the audience by jumping up on to 
her chair, lifting her red skirts and showing her 
red stockings. 

With the increase of revolutionary enthusiasm 
and the consumption of the reddened champagne, 
tongues w^ere loosened still more. Fiery speeches 
in most blasphemous language were made de- 
nouncing God, Christ, the Holy Virgin, Mahomet, 
Buddha, and all religions, against the kings and 
presidents of bourgeois countries, against morality 
and moral " prejudices ", while the world revo- 
lution, the Communist millennium and sex-com- 
munism were toasted and lauded, and death was 
called down on all the enemies of the Communist 
revolution. It was a terrible orgy of demoniac 
ideas and passions. 

What the end of this revelry of the Communist 
ruling caste was I don't know, for I left soon 
after, anticipating the worst. A Soviet poet, 
Yessienin, the future twenty-five-year-old husband 

247 



The Blue Steppes 

of Miss Isadora Duncan, recited some poems which 
were indecent to the last degree. I went out into 
the hall, took my hat and slipped out of the 
nefarious villa into the cool night air, alone. Never 
did the starry heavens and the blue night seem so 
lovely to me, so beautiful and holy after the vile- 
ness that was enthroned in the minds of those men 
and women in their mad desire to revolutionize the 
world. 



248 



Chapter XV 

A BAG OF DIAMONDS 

HOW I CAME to possess a bag of diamonds 
during the dark days of the Moscow famine 
and brought them safely to England, tucked 
away in the toe of my boot, still gleams in my 
shadowed memory like a glimpse of Ali-baba's 
cave. They were sparkling yellow diamonds, cut 
with a wealth of facets, clear and faultless as drops 
of dew, and all done up, the five of them, in a 
dainty blue silk bag shaped like a tiny heart, 
tied with a pair of tiny tassels, and adorned with 
the Imperial coat of arms and the name of 
Faberge, the celebrated Court jeweller. 

I ought to be a happy man. I have them 
still. I would not sell them for anything. But 
there's a tale behind them and I never take them 
out from their dark resting-place except on days of 
humiliation and regrets. 

It happened in this way. There was a terrible 
famine in Moscow. Nobody except Bolshevist 
commissars and their people had sufficient to eat. 
The sovereign people were starving. The Soviet 
Government, having intentionally destroyed the 
value of the rouble by making it worthless, had 

249 



The Blue Steppes 

decreed with egregious arrogance that the reign of 
gold and silver as a token of exchange was at an 
end, and that these " bourgeois " metals were 
henceforth to be used only for adornment and 
*' dental purposes ". This epoch-making blow at 
Capitalism was duly broadcast to the entire world 
by the Soviet wireless station and the event 
hailed in the egregious language of the Soviet 
as the crowning achievement of the socialist 
paradise. 

This glorious fiction having been duly decreed 
from the Central Offices, reality stepped in to pay 
a little back in her own coin. The peasants sulked 
in their tents and refused to bring any food to 
the towns or to cultivate the soil for the mere 
delight of seeing the produce socialisdcally con- 
fiscated. 

All of us, in those dark days, were obliged to 
forage for food, taking our old clothes and jewels 
down to the peasants and begging them to accept 
them in exchange for flour or potatoes. The 
Russian friends I was staying with at the time had 
no other means of keeping their big family of 
young sons and daughters alive except by sending 
the grown-ups into the country as " sackmen ". 
They would go long distances with sacks on their 
backs, returning with potatoes or corn. 

But there were other commodities that were 
equally necessary. There was sugar. One 
couldn't keep going without sugar in some form. 
There was none to be had anywhere, although 
one could stand and watch sackloads being taken 
250 



A Bag of Diamojids 

into the houses of the Soviet officials under armed 
protection. 

1 was staying at that time with some people 
who had managed to keep the upper stories of 
their house near the Kremlin. The lower floor 
had been taken over for some sort of Soviet office 
of a military nature and the chief official, being 
an ex-officer and non-partisan, was favourably 
disposed towards the unfortunate " bourgeois " 
upstairs. In fact, his kindness was the means of 
saving part of Madame Peritonov's jewels. This 
lady was the aged grandmother of my young 
student friends. She had managed by various 
means to keep her last remaining jewels and valu- 
ables from the confiscating hands of the Bolshe- 
vists. But searches by day and night increased 
in frequency. Parties of soldiers, led by alien 
commissars, would arrive at all hours to search 
the house and remove all eatables and objects of 
value. 

Madame Peritonov began to grow alarmed at 
the persistence and thoroughness of the searches. 
Ihe commissars actually started to tear up the 
floor boards in search of prey. In order to put 
her little treasure beyond the reach of these vultures, 
Madame Peritonov begged the amiable ex-officer 
chief of the bureau on the ground floor to keep it 
in the office safe. He was delighted to do this 
and the friendship ripened so much that he used to 
come upstairs for tea every afternoon. 

It was generally agreed that there must have 
been spies or traitors among the servants, for very 

251 



The Blue Steppes 

soon after the jewels were stored in the official 
safe in the Soviet bureau, there was an attempt at 
burglary. The officer arrived next morning and 
found the place littered with papers, the cupboards 
broken open, and signs of hacking at the lock of 
the iron safe. So, after a little discussion, it was 
arranged that the heavy safe should be removed 
upstairs and deposited in the ante-chamber of 
Madame Peritonov's bedroom. She was too lame 
to go far from the room and would therefore 
always be on guard. 

One night a group of soldiers arrived on a 
search. Their leader was a Polish Jew with restless 
ferret eyes. He saw the safe in the ante-chamber 
and, like a bird on its prey, he marked it for 
himself, abandoning all further search and ordering 
the men to carry it out into the night. He would 
listen to no protests that it was part of a Soviet 
office. 

Though there was much grief in the house 
during the night, it departed the next day when 
the officer arrived and took immediate steps to 
recover the safe. Happily it was found unopened, 
although efforts had been made to force the lock. 
The Polish Jew, however, must have made a 
fortune elsewhere by means of confiscations, for 
the officer told us that he had left for Sweden, 
where he had been secretly transferring large 
quantities of precious stones. Had he been a 
Russian he would have been shot, but Jewish 
solidarity shielded him from all *' persecution ". 

After this episode, Madame Peritonov thought it 
252 



A Bag of Diamonds 

would be better to remove part of the treasure in 
case anything similar occurred again. Next time 
the confiscators might succeed in opening the 
safe, and she knew that for all their egregious talk 
of Socialism and the Proletariat, the Bolshevist 
commissars were very fond of adorning their 
womenfolk with the jewels and riches they took 
from other people. In this respect, too, the 
sovereign people were left to run behind the 
Soviet cars in rags and tatters, and with empty 
stomachs in the bargain. 

Among the things Madame Peritonov decided 
to keep in her own secret hiding-place was the 
bag of yellow diamonds. When they were given 
to her from the safe, she laid them out on the 
tea-table, together with a rope of pearls, a heap of 
rings, and various other pieces of jewellery. 

I took just a fleeting glimpse of them and never 
dreamt that the little blue silk bag with the yellow 
diamonds would one day be hidden in the toe- 
cap of my boot. It was sugar that caused it. 

Madame Peritonov was anxious to get some for 
the sake of her small, growing grandchildren. 
There were so many of them, all between the ages 
of two and ten, and none of them had touched a bit 
of sugar for weeks. 

Peter, a grandson of twenty-two, and Vassili, 
another of nineteen, had gone with me in search 
of sugar into all sorts of low haunts. There was 
none to be had. One day we had just come back 
empty-handed from a similar expedition, when the 
housekeeper came up from the kitchen with a 

253 



The Blue Steppes 

look of triumph in her grey eyes. She had good 
news. Her nephew, a young married man and 
soldier in the Red Army, had just arrived. He 
was employed in the supplies section and could 
get sugar at a Moscow refinery whenever he cared 
to present his pass and orders. 

Trunoff, for such was his name, was immediately 
asked to step upstairs. He came in, cap in his 
hand, dressed in an old army coat, blue-eyed, 
fair-haired and with a growth of yellow-stubble on 
his young face. 

If the money was forthcoming, he could get as 
much sugar as they cared to have, though no 
quantity less than five pouds could be taken from the 
depot. 

A great confabulation was then arranged among 
the various heads of families. It was decided at 
last to pool resources and purchase five pouds. 
The price was 3,500 Tsarist roubles, equal at that 
time to about ^^200. Everyone was glad of the 
chance to get sugar. 

Then, however, there arose the question of 
getting it home. Somebody would have to accom- 
pany the soldier both to take care of the money 
and to bring the sugar home. Trunoff suggested 
that an izvoschik would be sufficient as a con- 
veyance. 

But who would undertake the risk ? It was a 
dangerous business. The Soviet had ordered all 
speculators to be shot. Madame Peritonov would 
not hear of either of her student grandsons under- 
taking the job. One could not hope to escape 

254 



A Bag of Diamonds 

being shot unless one belonged to the chosen 
people. 

At this remark everyone turned to me. 

*' Voila votre homme ! " a bald-headed pater- 
familias exclaimed. " He's English. They will 
not shoot an Englishman." 

For some unknown reason I have never been 
able to explain to myself, I let myself be per- 
suaded to go for the sugar. At that time I felt a 
great obligation towards Madame Peritonov for 
allowing me to sleep on the divan in her drawing- 
room and to share whatever could be found for 
the table. I was not allowed to leave the country, 
my belongings had been confiscated by the com- 
rades while they kept me in prison, and my 
banking account had been "socialized". I had, 
however, a sum of money which I had been 
lucky to keep in my trunk in Petrograd, and 
with this I was able to provide for my wants, 
besides keeping a sum in readiness for the expenses 
of getting to England. For a small sum I was 
able to take my meals at Madame Peritonov's 
table and thus spare the money I would need 
later on. Perhaps it was a sense of repaying this 
kindness that caused me to undertake the risky 
job of bringing home the sugar. Speculation was 
rife. Bribery and underhand business were the 
only means of securing the necessities of life out- 
side the circles of the Soviet. Since Socialism 
had taken everything for the State, which in 
practice meant the Soviet clique, everybody strove 
to take back \\'hat he could from the State, with 

255 



The Blue Steppes 

as much scruple about ways and means as the 
latter had shown. Ownership having been de- 
clared communal, there was a terrible scramble 
for it. It was in this appalling atmosphere that I 
decided to carry the money and accompany the 
Red soldier to the refinery. 

From the windows of the house, everyone 
watched us set out, raining signs of the cross upon 
our heads. Along the street TrunofF suddenly 
left me and spoke to a man wearing the uniform of 
a university student. They had a little chat and 
then TrunofF came back to me. 

" That's my wife's brother," he said. " I 
wonder what he's doing hanging about here ? 
He said he had just come from the station from a 
food expedition." 

A little farther on he stopped at a street booth 
and bought some apples. He offered me one, 
but I refused it. Munching the apple and looking 
grim, he walked along towards the refinery on 
the banks of the River Moscow near the Kremlin. 
Before we got to the gates, he asked me not to 
come too near as there was a sentinel on guard who 
might look askance at a civilian. So I stood in 
the doorway of a house near by. The 3,500 
Tsarist roubles were safe in my pocket. After a 
short while Trunoff came back and declared that 
the sugar was there, but that he would have to 
pay for it first. The office was just inside the 
gates. One could see the glass door if one stood 
in the middle of the road. 

I gave him the money and watched him enter 
256 



A Bag of Diafnonds 

the office door by the dozing sentinel. I watched 
and watched, waiting for him to come out again. . . . 

A quarter of an hour went by and still no sign 
of him. I began to suspect that something was 
wrong. I ventured at last to ask the sentinel 
whether the soldier w^ho had entered a short while 
before could be hunted up. The man called to 
a passing soldier and sent him into the office to 
inquire. He came back, saying that there was no 
sign of any soldier and that he must have gone 
out by the door on the other side of the building 
into another street. 

Scenting treachery, I returned home to the man's 
aunt, who gave me his address, where his wife was 
sure to be found. I went there at all speed. At 
the door I asked the porter for Comrade Trunoff. 
He looked at me with slanting eyes. 

" Comrade Trunoff ? " he asked. " He left 
here, together with his wife, half an hour ago. 
They only hired one furnished room and took their 
belongings in a sack. A simple matter ! " 

I went back to the house with a dejected heart. 
So it was all a plot ! What a land of misery it 
was ! On all sides, in this socialistic paradise, 
was treachery, fraud, starvation, violence, hatred, 
murder, an avalanche of man's inhumanity to 
man, an endless w^elter of misery, while over all 
raved the Soviet fanatics with their fantastic fic- 
tions and paper promises, their bellowings of love 
for man and the ceaseless cracking of their guns 
against files of men. 

Arrived at the house, I reported the full treachery 
R 257 



The Blue Steppes 

of Trunoff. There was a great outcry at the loss 
of so much money. It was not mine ; I had 
merely consented to undertake the risky job so 
that none of the young members of the household 
should face the danger of being shot. But here, 
the relations of my student friends proved to be of 
a different mould from them. 

" You must give us back the money from your 
own pocket," they said. " You should have had 
your wits about you." 

They made a scene, a dreadful wailing, gesti- 
culating scene. All my adventure in taking on 
that risky job was forgotten. Nothing but blame 
and reproaches were heaped upon my guilty head. 

Well, what could I do ? I hated scenes. I 
refused to discuss the matter. In the folds of my 
coat I had the Tsarist notes I had saved from 
confiscation and was keeping for my board and 
journey home. There were 6,000 roubles in all. 
I have been told by a Scotsman that I should have 
kept them in my pocket and gone away, but for 
some mysterious reason, a mere impulse, I took 
them out and handed 3,500 roubles to be redis- 
tributed among the discontented relations. 

" Wait a bit ! " said the bald-headed pater- 
familias, who had first suggested me for the job. 
He counted the notes over with eager hands, 
wetting his fingers on his tongue. " There's a 
hundred missing." 

I went out on to the balcony for a breath of 
fresh air. A feeling of suffocation was pressing at 
my throat. 

258 



A Bag of Diamonds 

Madame Peritonov followed me out into the open. 
■" I will pay you back half, if ever I get rich 
again," she said. 

Pier daughter, Madame Markoff, the mother of 
my student friends, Peter and Vassili, called out 
over her shoulder in an excited voice, waving her 
arms up and down : 

*' No ! No ! Every copeck ! We will pay 
back every copeck ! " 

Towards evening, when the excitement had 
abated, Madame Markoff came to me with a 
subdued look and spoke in a quiet, pathetic voice. 

" See here," she said, holding out the little 
blue silk bag. " It is a load on my conscience 
that you should have lost so much money. As 
you hope soon to go to England let me give you 
this little bag of diamonds. You will be able to 
sell them in London. We cannot do so here, as 
they would be confiscated by the Bolshevists. 
Take them with you. They will make up a 
little for what you have lost." 

When the time came for me to make my exciting 
exit from the Russian slaughterhouse, I poked 
the little bag with the diamonds into the toe of 
my boot. It was a fearfully dilapidated old 
boot, for I had been obliged to mend it with my 
own hands with the felt of my hat. Such things 
were a common sight in the streets of Moscow, 
where the sovereign people walked about in 
mouldy, gaping footwear while their Communist 
rulers rode about in patent boots. But I didn't 
complain. I had a small fortune in my toe. 

259 



The Blue Steppes 

I had a friend called Viola, a charming girl, 
who welcomed me back to London. When I 
told her the story of the sugar adventure, how 
dejected I had felt at TrunofF's treachery, how 
utterly miserable I had been at the ungratefulness 
of the bald paterfamilias and the rest, and finally, 
how happy when the little silk bag appeared as a 
token of nobler sentiments, she wished to see 
those diamonds. I had never shown or spoken 
of them to anyone. Their story was too full of 
reproach, too keen a reminder of human baseness 
and my own folly. But to her I told the story, 
for she was kind and angelic. And to her I 
showed the little blue silk bag with its Imperial 
coat-of-arms and its little nest of diamonds. 

" Why do you keep them if they remind you of 
unpleasant things ? " she asked as we sat at tea 
in Stewart's at the corner of Bond Street. 

" Because they also remind me of the great 
relief I felt when they were offered to me and I 
realized that my friends were not ungrateful after 
all. In fact, Madame MarkofF told me she wished 
to remove a load from her conscience, for it was 
in order to spare any danger to her sons' lives 
that I had consented to go for the sugar. It is 
not their value I care about, it was the beau geste 
with which they were given." 

As we passed the windows of Spinks in Piccadilly 
my friend insisted on going in to find out how 
much they were worth. I yielded to this angelic 
pressure. 

The man at the counter took the bag into a 
260 



A Bag of Diamonds 

side window, took up a litde instrument and 
fumbled with the diamonds. There was a pause 
and then his impulsive voice broke the stillness. 

" They're glass ! " he exclaimed. 

And with that, one more glowing lamp was 
shattered in my life. 

But, of course, she could not have known. 



261 



Chapter XVI 

OUT OF THE JAWS OF HELL 



WHEN I WAS SICK to death of the murder- 
ing, confiscating and odorous tyranny prac- 
tised by the Soviet Government, I escaped 
across the frontier into Finland. I had attached 
myself to a party of Frenchwomen who were 
being evacuated from Russia. It was such a 
great joy to quit the blood-stained soil of the 
Soviet land that many refugees sank on to the 
sandy soil of Finland and thanked God for their 
deliverance. Not all, however, had time for such 
pious manifestations. They rushed along the rail- 
way track to the little station, and, bursting into 
the restaurant in scores, pounced like hungry 
wolves on whatever there was to be eaten. No 
preparations having been made for this sudden 
descent of refugees, there was litde to be found. 
Three or four cold sausages lying under a glass 
cover were the object of a scramble among the 
hungry women which resulted in the smashing of 
the cover and the untimely division of the food. 
Never had I seen such unpleasant scenes. True, 
the dearth of food had been so great in Soviet 
Russia, the hunting for it so strenuous and com- 
262 



Out of the Jaws of Hell 

petitive, that people were obliged to snap up 
whatever they could find. Xot only in the matter 
of food, but with regard to all the commodities of 
life, the net result of Communism was to create 
an appalling scarcity of all things except Soviet 
arrogance and commissars, bombastic decrees and 
vain promises, while the acquisitive individualism 
of the citizens of this Communistic state was 
provoked to its highest and least agreeable point. 
The bait of profit and immediate gain, which 
the Bolshevists had held out to the people in their 
efforts to secure power, merely whetted the people's 
desire for possession after the Soviet was in power. 
The human side of these new citizens of the Com- 
munist State did not change one whit, and not 
all the drastic shootings ordered by the Soviet 
Government succeeded in instilling communistic, 
non-possessing principles into the baited people. 
Grab ! had been the baiting slogan and grabbing 
remained ever after. 

It is not surprising, therefore, that the spirit 
which had reigned so long in Soviet Russia should 
still manifest itself in these refugees. 

Unfortunately for me, I was not even allowed to 
join the cry for food. Officials looked askance at 
me because I had no passport, and wished to detain 
me. I did not wait for argument, but in the 
general scrimmage boarded the waiting train and 
stayed there till it took me to the Swedish frontier. 
Here again I was held up. The Swedish 
authorities did not like passing a man without 
documents. I managed, nevertheless, to convince 

263 



The Blue Steppes 

them that I was quite respectable, and they let 
me through. 

Awaiting the refugees, both French and British, 
was a wonderful meal, offered by the British 
Minister at Stockholm. It was the first real dinner 
I had had for months, if I except those sumptuous 
repasts I was privileged to enjoy occasionally 
through being taken for a Sinn Fein Irishman 
and admitted to the exclusive society of the feasting 
Soviet officials. 

Nothing was more obvious than the fact that 
any society, whatever it call itself, is made up of 
human beings with human appetites and desires, 
and that no society is run on decrees and negations 
alone. To starve the acquisitive instincts is merely 
to screw them up to the pitch of madness, and 
their repression in Russia, after they had been 
stirred up by propaganda promises, merely led to 
the ebbing away of the economic life of the 
country. When, to avert final collapse, the Soviet 
Government re-instituted a certain amount of 
private trade, there was such a rush amongst 
the population to do business that the Soviet was 
terribly alarmed at this upsetting of its com- 
munistic principle and immediately clapped hobbles 
on the mare. Which goes to prove that human 
nature remains the same for all the tyranny of 
Communism. 

II 

When I arrived in capitalistic England and saw 
the wonderful things that had been done in the 
264 



Out of the yaws of Hell 

way of social progress, I wondered how anybody- 
could be so foolish as to dream of copying Russia. 
Here, under Capitalism, the position of the masses 
is so wonderful in comparison with Communist 
Russia and the removal of the evil legacies of the 
past so constantly effected by sure, if gradual, 
legislation that Communist Russia seems to me, 
who come from there, nothing but a conventicle 
of unscrupulous cant. I marvelled at the sight of 
the splendid houses erected under the various 
Government schemes in Britain and compared 
them with tlie ruin produced by Communism in 
Russia of the houses it had inherited from the 
old regime. Here hundreds, thousands of houses 
have been erected for the workers, while in Russia 
only a few have been constructed at the order of 
the Soviet Government for propaganda purposes 
and photographed. The pictures are distributed 
over the face of the world as " houses built by 
the Soviet for the workers ". A few houses 
copied millions of times in print ! The only 
earthly paradise the workers can hope for is a 
Capitalist one. 

The same trickery Is practised by the Soviet 
Government in all departments. Factories, farms, 
houses, schools, children's colonies, homes, hospitals, 
etc., are all served in the same way. A few here 
and there are maintained at the expense of the State, 
photographed, written about, and shown to visitors 
who have secured a Soviet visa. 

To step from such an atmosphere of cunning, 
deceit, falsehood, tyranny, bloodshed and endless 

265 



The Blue Steppes 

violence into the practical, freedom-loving environ- 
ment of Britain is like passing from the jaws of 
hell. Whatever her defects, Britain offers one the 
chance of progress, peace and the spirit of indepen- 
dence, instead of the hideous fangs of hatred and 
destruction, diabolical inhumanity and the crushing 
of every independent soul. 

When I came back to England, I was surprised 
to find there could be anyone to approve of 
Communist Russia. I went into Hyde Park on 
May Day and stood beneath a platform where an 
orator was praising the glories of Soviet Russia, 
He declared that the accounts of Soviet atrocities 
were all manufactured in Fleet Street by the 
Capitalist Press. Having seen my friends brutally 
murdered, my belongings taken, seen the terrible 
sufferings of the vast majority of the Russian 
people and listened month after month to their 
whispered appeals, to hear this unscrupulous man 
was too much for me. I made a protest. Imme- 
diately a shoal of Russian Jews, wearing red ties, 
surrounded me, threatening and shaking their 
fists. I hated a scene and would have let the 
matter drop had not a British working-man tapped 
me on the back, saying : " Stick it, sonnie i 
Tell 'em what you know ! " 

There was a good deal of confusion and the 
man on the platform was interrupted. 

** What's the matter down there, comrades ? " 
he asked. 

*' Here's a man says he's been in Russia," they 
answered. 
266 



Out of the Jau^s of Hell 

My working-men supporters demanded that I 
should be allowed on to the platform. The orator, 
however, disliked the idea. 

" Look ! " he declared, in his most contemptuous 
voice. *' A horny-handed son of toil ! " 

The crowd laughed, and a Russian Jew put my 
Russian to the test. The crowd dropped into 
silence at this, and their wonder increased. More- 
over, I produced some photographs of myself in 
Russia in the glorious company of commissars ! 

After that the orator placed his platform at my 
disposal on the insistence of half the assembly. 
As I went up the rickety stairs, he called out : 
'* That's as near to heaven as you'll get." To 
which I promptly replied. " I quite believe it. 
The platform, you see, is yours." 

Thereupon I held forth for about twenty minutes 
to a silent crowd chiefly concerning the ghastly 
fate of the workers who were imprisoned with me 
in Moscow because they had dared to strike and to 
maintain the traditional rights of trade-unionism. 

As I walked away I could hear the orator,, 
returned to his platform, addressing the crowd 
again : ** Our comrade says . . . yes, I call him 
comrade. . . ." 

I didn't stop to hear what he had to say further 
on my account. A number of working-men came 
to shake hands with me, thanking me for telling 
them how so many workers had been done to 
death by the Soviet Government for their inde- 
pendent stand and love of freedom. 

From conversation with these men, I realized 

267 



The Blue Steppes 

that British working-men would never submit to 
be the slaves of the international tyrants that sit in 
Moscow. 

But to me, steeped in the joys and sorrows of 
Russia, the memory of the blue steppes will always 
be like the grim shadow of a death-headed giant 
rising from the swamps and marshes of an Eastern 
land. . . . 



Pf'nteJ in Great Brifjin by 
UNWIN BROTHEUS, LIMITED, LONDON AND WOKING 









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